Turkey, US finalize combat air patrol agreement
Serkan Demirtaş/Uğur Ergan - ANKARA
The F-15E Strike Eagle. Photo Credit: WikipediaTurkey and the United States have finalized a bilateral agreement to provide a framework for the latter’s aircraft to conduct combat air patrol missions in Turkish airspace, amid ongoing tension between Ankara and Moscow over the downing of a Russian warplane last month.
“We finalized a bilateral agreement Friday [Dec. 11] with Turkey outlining procedures for combat air patrol missions in Turkish airspace. This enduring agreement provides a framework for our aircraft to support air defense missions in Turkey if/when called upon, either with these air frames or others in the future,” Lt. Cheryl Collins from EUCOM (United States European Command) Public Affairs said in a written statement to the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 16.
“With the agreement in place, we began this past weekend flying combat air patrol missions,” she added. The Daily News learned from diplomatic sources that the bilateral agreement was a military-to-military deal.
The U.S. deployed F-15s to Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase after Turkish airspace was violated by Russian warplanes in early October, which pushed the Turkish government to call its NATO allies for military assistance to secure its airspace.
Upon Turkey’s request, six F-15Cs arrived on Nov. 6 and conducted training and operational missions supporting Turkish allies and their sovereign airspace. Six F-15Es followed on Nov. 12 to conduct counter-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) operations in Syria and Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
However, only days after the finalization of the agreement the EUCOM decided to withdraw the F-15s from Turkey. A written statement issued by the EUCOM on Dec. 16 said, “The Air Force F-15 Eagles and Strike Eagles deployed to Incirlik Airbase, Turkey, are returning to RAF Lakenheath, U.K., beginning Dec. 16.” However, A-10s, remotely piloted aircraft and other coalition aircraft will remain at İncirlik conducting counter-ISIL missions, it added.
“The deployment of these F-15Cs at the request of the government of Turkey demonstrates and exercises our ability to rapidly deploy U.S. assets in support of an air defense mission in Turkey. Upon arrival, the F-15Cs began flying training missions with Turkish counterparts to enhance interoperability. This was a temporary deployment,” Collins told the Daily News about the reason of the withdrawal.
“This deployment served not only as an immediate response to a request from an ally, but as an exercise in our ability to deploy aircraft and airmen on short notice to Turkey, if needed,” she added.
British jets to replace US F-15s
In the meantime, the Daily News learned from Turkish military sources the F-15s will be replaced by aircraft from the U.K.’s Royal Air Forces soon.
Military sources confirmed the withdrawal of the F-15s, stressing the current deployment of A-10s was sufficient to provide air defense with the contribution to be provided by the British aircraft.