I’m back to reading tea leaves and they haven’t been helpful. Maybe I should consult the I-Ching? There is an apparent shelf life to the US remaining at the Turkish Air Force Base at Incerlik – but how long is that shelf life?
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu was critical of the US in an Anadolunews agency report that came out yesterday. He said that the US failed to provide air support to Turkey-backed opposition forces taking part in Operation Euphrates Shield against Daesh (DA’ISH, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL). The minister said the Turkish nation was asking the US the question: “If you are not supporting us in the most significant operation, then why are you based at the Incirlik Airbase.”
He said, “The U.S. is an important ally; we have cooperation in almost every field. However, the truth is that we are having a ‘confidence crisis’ with the US.”
Cavusoglu said that the US had supplied weapons to the Syrian Kurds whom Turkey has designated as a terrorist organization. He said the US prefers terrorist organizations over its ally, Turkey, and that the US provided no support for Turkey in its fight against the organizers of the failed coup last July, the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).
Some news services reported that some Turkish officials made an implied threat to halt US and coalition operations from Incirlik. In an earlier period, friction between allies would have been managed more discreetly.
The Turks are accusing the US of helping their enemies and neglecting Turkey’s security needs. The core of their complaint – US arming the Syrian Kurds – is not new. The linkage to US air operations from Incirlik is new. They halted US operations at Incirlik during the counter-coup last July. They know they can do it again with few consequences.
The Sticky Wicket
The US is supporting the Kurds, arming the Kurds, and not flying strike missions against them. Turkey is a US ally (sort of) and they are at war with the Kurds.
The US could leave Incirlik AFB but then they’d have to base aircraft in either:
- Jordan (the best option)
- Israel (problematic for strike missions to be flown from there against Arab states)
- Greece (which would require an over-fly of the Russian fleet and the Russian Air Force Bases in Syria)
- There was once a time when the US had a Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean when this wouldn’t have been so significant. However, when you consider the situation that Barack is handing off to President Trump, it’s not as simple as it once would have been. A solution to defeat ISIL/DAESH that president Trump proposes requires the use of airpower in addition to other military options.
Seeing an opportunity to widen a split within NATO, Russian air forces this week have flown strike missions in support of the Free Syrian Army south of Al Bab. Those kinds of rapid Russian responses are becoming normal. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Konashenkov made a point of telling Interfax on 4 January that the US administration is not a party to the talks brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
The new Turkish-Russian relationship is not smooth. The Turks are trying to manipulate it to serve their interests in subduing the Kurds and in overthrowing the Asad government in Syria. The Russian interests are not congruent with those of the Turks, except in defeating the Islamic State, al Qaida-affiliated fighters and other Islamic militant groups.
Russian President Putin said this week that Russia would reduce the size of its air expeditionary force in Syria this year, but he provided no other details. He was quick to add that Russia firmly supports the Syrian government and remains opposed to the Islamic State terrorists. It also continues to improve its naval and air bases in Syria. Russia wants peace in Syria. It is not necessarily tied to the Asad administration, but displays no intention of leaving Syria or of allowing Islamists to take power in Damascus.