The United States (U.S.) must immediately replace its nuclear weapons in Turkey’s Incirlik airbase as the anti-Americanism has continually grown in the country and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got closer toward Russia, a retired US 4-star air force general told Bloomberg on Saturday.
Chuck Wald, who served as deputy commander of the US European Command in the 2000s, said Turkey has been “a thorn in the US side” for the last half-decade under the Erdogan regime, referring to recent friction over several issues between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies.
“Incirlik aside, we have seen how Turkey has been actively operating against NATO interests for far too long now, buying Russian S-400s [surface-to-air missile defense system] despite repeated warnings, allowing foreign fighters free passage en route to joining ISIS [Islamic State] in Syria, etc.” said the general.
Following the failure of protracted efforts to purchase U.S. air defense systems in 2017, Turkey decided to acquire the Russian S-400 system. Despite a strong reaction by the Western world, including NATO, a Turkish-Russian deal was concluded.
Turkey received its first S-400 deliveries in July but has yet to activate the batteries.
Wald called on the US administration “not to give an inch regarding the S-400 issue.”
Erdogan’s Turkey had persistently rejected the US requests to use the Incirlik base in southern Turkey for its military operations against ISIS in 2014, after which it defeated ISIS in cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia forces, Wald claimed.
Ankara launched a military operation against the YPG in early October, regarding it as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist armed group operating within the country.
Wald also accused Turkey of starting to fire on the US positions in northern Syria while the US troops were in the process of withdrawing just before the latest Turkish offensive.
US President Donald Trump has faced harsh criticism due to his decision to withdraw the US troops from Syria prior to Turkey’s operation — a decision deemed to be giving Turkey a green light to launch its offensive.
“The fact that Turkey is acting counter to the best interests of the US and NATO regarding Syria and the Kurds is an added reason for us to hold Turkey accountable for their actions,” Wald said, answering a question how effectively Trump was dealing with the Turkey issues.
NATO should devise a long-overdue system to handle instances when a bloc member does not demonstrably act in accordance with NATO values or, even worse, when it presents a threat to the organization’s security interests as in the Turkish case, Wald argued.
Trump, however, emphasized Turkey’s contribution to NATO, during Erdogan’s visit to Washington on Wednesday.
Besides the bombs, the US air forces stationed at the base should also be up for relocation, the former US official further stated, pointing to Cyprus and Greece which are eager to host the US forces.
“Consequently, Turkey’s actions should be raising serious questions about whether US and NATO forces should remain at Incirlik,” he warned.
Asked by a reporter how confident he was of the security of nuclear bombs in Turkey in the aftermath of the Turkish incursion into Syria, Trump implicitly revealed for the first time an almost open secret that the US has long been storing nuclear bombs at the Incirlik base.
The US president said at the time that his administration was confident of the bombs’ security.
As a longstanding policy, the US administration has not normally acknowledged in public locations of nuclear weapons overseas.
It is believed that the US holds as many as 50 B-61 bombs at the Incirlik airbase under heavy guard.
On October 18, Eric Edelman, a senior Pentagon official and a former US ambassador to Turkey, said he saw a risk in removing the nuclear weapons, adding that such a move would make Turkey pursue its own independent nuclear deterrent.
In September, Erdogan voiced his thinking about that possibility, saying, “They [Western world] say we cannot have nuclear-tipped missiles though some have them. This, I cannot accept.”
Ankara signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1980 and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996 which bans all nuclear detonations for any purpose.