Turkey may open İncirlik base upon NATO decision
Turkey may open its strategic İncirlik air base for possible military operations into neighboring Syria, if the Western defense alliance NATO decides for an intervention in the ongoing civil war, a ranking Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News on Aug. 26.
The official, who asked not to be named, said the reports of chemical weapons last week triggered the motivations of the international community in such a way that fewer leaders were now indifferent to what has been happening in Syria for the over two years of civil war. “According to the results of the political and military evaluations these days, it is possible that the NATO Council might convene with Syria on the agenda. If there is an intervention decision, Turkey would take part in it, which could include the opening of the İncirlik air base.”
One of the meetings that the official mentioned was the political meeting between the “Core Group” of the Friends of Syrian People and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), representing the opposition against the Bashar al-Assad regime, which will take place in Istanbul on Aug. 26. The other meeting is a military one in Amman, Jordan, another neighbor of Syria, where defense ministers and/or the top commanders of 10 nations got together on the same day to discuss “preventing a spillover” of the civil war, and also to assess the scenarios of a possible intervention in Syria. Those 10 nations were Jordan, as the host country, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the U.K., France, Turkey, Germany, Qatar, Italy and Canada.
The possibility of a military intervention in Syria without a United Nations mandate had been ruled out by the U.S. and Western allies, up until the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near the capital Damascus in which hundreds of civilians were killed. The al-Assad regime still rejects responsibility (with the backing of Russia and Iran), pointing the finger instead at the rebel forces. However, Western intelligence insists that the al-Assad forces did it. Turkish national daily Cumhuriyet reported on Monday, referring to Turkish military sources, that the kind of chemical warhead shells that were fired were not possessed by the rebel forces, but by the Syrian army.
Turkey has been pressing for nearly two years now for a joint intervention in the civil war, in which an estimated 100,000 people have so far been killed, in order to stop the war and prevent further spillover. However, it has not got much of a response up to now, mainly for three reasons. The first was Russia and China’s blocking in the U.N. Security Council. The second was the reluctance of the U.S. and EU partners to provide weapons to the rebels that could end up in the hands of groups linked to al-Qaeda, such as the al-Nusra Front. The third was the policy of U.S. President Barack Obama not to send ground troops into conflict zones, drawing his lesson from the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, where it was observed that the U.S. invasion helped some political Islamist groups to further grow and become radicalized under the wings of American protection.
However, the use of chemical weapons, which had been announced as a “red line” for Syria before, has seemingly changed the game. The Kosovo option that is now under discussion suggests the use of air and navy units, not ground forces, which could be a way out for Obama. All eyes are now on a possible NATO meeting.
The İncirlik air base, south of Turkey is one of the most strategically important NATO bases in the world. It was effectively used for Iraq operations in the past, and also in Kosovo.