The U.S. government is reportedly examining multiple plans for how it might remove approximately 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs it keeps in ready storage at the American-operated portion of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. This comes a week after Turkey launched an operation into northern Syria targeting the primarily Kurdish U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. This intervention has precipitated an all-new crisis in the region, prompted the start of at least a tactical withdrawal of U.S. forces from much of the country amid concerns they could be caught in the fighting, and led to calls for an arms embargo and major sanctions on the Turkish government.
The New York Times was the first to report that officials from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Energy, the latter of which oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, were reviewing what to do about the B61s at Incirlik. These bombs have been a particularly serious security concern, as the War Zone has highlighted in the past, after U.S.-Turkish relations began to chill following an attempted coup against Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. There continue to be completely unfounded conspiracy theories that the U.S. military was directly involved in the abortive putsch, which did involve Turkish Air Force units at Incirlik. There have been calls in Turkey since then for investigations into American military personnel and raids onto the American portions of the base to collect evidence, which you can read about more in this past War Zone piece.
Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria
Concerns about the B61s are undoubtedly higher now given the current situation in neighboring Syria. On Oct. 11, 2019, Turkish artillery “bracketed” a U.S. military position in the Syrian city of Kobane, firing shells within just hundreds of feet of the outpost edges of the outpost. This highly strategic city sits right on the border with Turkey and, at the time of writing, is under SDF control. The Pentagon has insisted that its Turkish counterparts know all of the locations of U.S. forces in Syria and this appears to have been a deliberate attempt to get the Americans to abandon their post, which they did, but only temporarily.
“In the last 24 hours, we learned that they [the Turkish military] likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned – and to the west,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in an interview on Oct. 13, 2019. “I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria,” Esper continued.
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