Meral Akşener, leader of the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party, has said the United States should leave İncirlik Airbase in southern Turkey if they feel uncomfortable with the Turkish presence in Syria, local media reported on Wednesday.
Akşener commented on the shooting down of a Turkish drone by the US in northeast Syria last week during her party’s parliamentary group meeting on Wednesday.
The Pentagon said US F-16 fighter jets shot down a drone belonging to NATO ally Turkey last Thursday that was deemed a potential threat to American forces in Syria.
Turkish military officials initially denied that the drone belonged to the armed forces, but the Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed last Friday that the drone was Turkey’s. Some reports said it belonged to the Turkish intelligence agency MİT.
Akşener pointed to the allegation that the US warplanes that shot down Turkey’s drone took off from İncirlik Airbase.
“I want to state it clearly here, whether this serious allegation is true or not: If the US government is uncomfortable with Turkey’s presence in this region, it should immediately vacate İncirlik Airbase,” Akşener said.
The nationalist leader also stated that the US should compensate Turkey for the drone it shot down.
“However, we sadly observe that, just like when our soldiers had hoods put over their heads, there are attempts to cover up this disgraceful incident,” she added.
The incident Akşener referred to took place in northern Iraq in July 2003 when a group of Turkish special forces operating in the area were arrested by US soldiers and led away to be interrogated, in the back of a truck with hoods over their heads. Around 100 American soldiers stormed the barracks used by the Turkish troops, arresting 11 soldiers and six civilians and taking them to the regional capital of Kirkuk. They were released 60 hours later in response to protests by top Turkish leaders, but the incident was viewed by many Turks as a deliberate insult.
Akşener further said what needed to be questioned was not how close the drone got to the US base, but what US bases are doing right at the heart of the “terrorist organization.”
The incident took place as Turkey conducts airstrikes targeting Kurdish forces in the area following a suicide bombing on Oct. 1 in Ankara that was claimed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community.
The US has approximately 900 troops deployed in Syria as part of international efforts to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and carries out frequent raids targeting ISIL militants.
Devlet Bahçeli, leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also condemned the incident during his party’s group meeting on Tuesday, describing it as “unlawful and wrong.”
President Erdoğan also spoke about the downing of the Turkish drone in Syria following a Cabinet meeting on Monday evening and said Turkey would retaliate when the time is right.