The US military has sharply reduced combat operations at Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base and is considering permanent cutbacks there, according to The Wall Street Journal, the Ahval news website reported.
US officials told the Journal that this shift was driven by tensions between Washington and Ankara.
The US has used the base to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since 2015, but deteriorating relations between the US and Turkey have made it challenging for the US to operate at Incirlik.
The Turkish government sees İncirlik as important leverage against the US.
In May 2017 Can Acun, a political analyst at the pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) think tank Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) said: “İncirlik is the main air base for the US-led coalition. A sanction in this regard would place the US into a tough spot,” the paper reports.
In January the US moved A-10 jets from İncirlik, leaving only refueling aircraft. The number of military members living at the base has also been reduced. At the time the Pentagon explained the move on the basis of its decision to step up operations in Afghanistan.
According to US officials, the United States remains committed to NATO ally Turkey, and there are no immediate plans for a further reduction of forces and aircraft. Yet, the officials also say that there are internal deliberations about the continued use of İncirlik, which they see as “necessary to mitigate any impact from the potential loss of their ability to conduct operations from the base.”
US-Turkey relations have suffered for some time due to conflicting interests and alliances in Syria.
Relations between the two countries were recently further strained after Turkey launched a military operation on Jan. 20, in Afrin, northern Syria. Turkey has repeatedly voiced its plans to extend the operation to Manbij, a city under the control of US backed Kurdish forces.
On Friday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey and the US agreed on the stabilization of Manbij and other Syrian cities east of the Euphrates after two days of meetings in Washington last week to normalize relations.
The US did not confirm Çavuşoğlu’s remarks.