Source: Patrick Goodenough
(CNSNews.com) – A bipartisan Senate bill aimed at pressurizing Turkey over its military offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces contains a provision requiring the administration to explore “viable alternative” locations for U.S. military troops and assets now based in Turkey.
Their current base, Incirlik in the NATO ally’s southeast, is home to the U.S. Air Force’s busiest air traffic control complex in Europe. Crucially, it’s also believed to house the largest stockpile of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
“Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to Congress an interagency report assessing viable alternative military installations or other locations to host personnel and assets of the United States Armed Forces currently stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” reads the bill.
The bill, authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and with 14 co-sponsors from both parties, would target for sanctions President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials, key banks, military transactions, and energy sector activities supportive of the Turkish military.
It would also prohibit U.S. military assistance to Turkey, prevent Erdogan from visiting the U.S. – as he is currently scheduled to do on November 13.
The initiative is a response to Erdogan’s military offensive against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, which began after President Trump earlier this month announced the pullback of a small number of U.S. troops in the immediate area of the looming Turkish attack.
U.S. and allied officials do not as a rule talk about the placement of nuclear weapons in Europe abroad, although experts say 150 Cold War-era B61 thermonuclear gravity bombs are located at bases in five NATO countries – Turkey, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Trump last week indirectly confirmed the presence of nuclear weapons at the Turkish base. Asked in the Oval Office how confident he was of the safety of the “as many as 50 nuclear weapons” at Incirlik, he replied, “We’re confident,” adding that Incirlik was “a large, powerful air base” and reminding reporters that Turkey was a NATO ally.
In a CNBC interview broadcast on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also asked about the nuclear weapons at Incirlik, in the context of a question on whether he trusts Erdogan. He did not take the bait.
“Turkey is, of course, a NATO member,” said CNBC’s Wilfred Frost. “They get lots of extra shares intelligence because of that. There is also around 40 or 50 NATO-U.S. nuclear weapons housed in Turkey. How much do you trust President Erdogan personally?”
“I never talk about trust,” Pompeo replied. “I always talk about making sure that we work closely, that we use our diplomatic skills, that we verify everything. You should know: We have a number of NATO partners that do things that aren’t consistent with what America wishes we would do. We’re partners in a NATO alliance. It doesn’t mean that we always agree.”