Ankara retains the option of shutting down the Incirlik Air Base used by US/NATO forces, in retaliation to any additional sanctions against Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.
As well the air base, which is located in Adana, the Kurecik Radar Station in the Malatya province may also be closed, Erdogan said. The Kurecik base houses an early-warning radar installed by the US Army, which plays a strategic role in NATO’s ballistic missile defense network.
“We will close down Incirlik if necessary,” Erdogan told A Haber TV.
Erdogan made the threat, which had earlier been suggested by FM Mevlut Cavusoglu, while talking to the A Haber channel about the Armenian Genocide resolution passed by the US Senate. It formally recognizes as genocide the mass murder of some 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century by the Ottoman Empire.
While the resolution was actually opposed by US President Donald Trump because it came amid a notable low-point in American-Turkish relations, Trump himself has not shied away from threatening Ankara with sanctions – even with the use of force.
This war of words was triggered particularly by Turkey’s October military operation in northern Syria, which targeted Kurdish militias allied with the US. Back then, Ankara was slapped with sanctions, but those were later rolled back when Trump decided that the crisis was resolved.
US Senators on Wednesday backed a bill that would enable the sanctioning of Turkey over its purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, and over its military operation against Kurds in northern Syria. Ankara’s acquisition of the S-400 system has been a bone of contention between the two NATO allies, in which Ankara has steadfastly refused to abandon the deal.
Erdogan’s singling out of Incirlik is not the first time the NATO facility has been in the news in Turkey. Following the failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016, local media reported that thousands of armed police in armored vehicles surrounded the base, amid rumors of a fresh coup attempt. The authorities later explained the massive response by a routine security check ahead of a high-level US military visit. In the wake of the coup, however, several top military officials at Incirlik were arrested on treason charges, after authorities claimed an F-16 fighter jet taking part in the rebellion had refuelled there.
A year later, Germany’s parliament voted to move its troops stationed at Incirlik to Jordan, after Turkish authorities refused to allow members of the Bundestaf to visit the base. Turkey blocked access to the Germans after Berlin granted asylum to a number of Turkish nationals it claims took part in the 2016 coup.
The base is one of six storage sites for American nuclear warheads in Europe, with an estimated 90 nukes stationed there. It was also used heavily by coalition forces in the US-led bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq.