The Pentagon has denied claims that US operations at Incirlik airbase in Turkey have been reduced due to tensions between Ankara and Washington, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Johnny Michael, the spokesperson for the United States European Command (EUCOM), said the claims were “just a speculation”, and that all military activity was continuing at the airbase uninterrupted.
The clarification came after the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the US was considering permanent cutbacks at the Turkish base due to tensions between the two countries over the Syrian conflict.
Turkey is currently undertaking an air and ground offensive as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Syria, Kurdish militias that have been affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terror organisation that has launched continual attacks against Turkey. The YPG make up a large proportion of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the US has backed in the fight against Daesh.
The operation was launched in response to the US announcing its intention to establish a permanent, 30,000 strong patrol along the Turkish-Syria border, much of which would be made up of SDF fighters. The offensive has opened a new front in the long-running civil war.
The US response comes amid reports that the SDF has redeployed some 1,700 fighters from fronts against Daesh to the Afrin region to help fend off the Turkish offensive. The Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad had also announced last month that regime forces will support Kurdish militias against Turkish soldiers, with several units deployed to the north of country.
In an effort to reduce tensions, Washington and Ankara have announced their intention to establish “working groups” to tackle some of the most contentious issues, including the YPG presence in the SDF. The first meeting of the respective groups concluded last Friday, with diplomatic sources describing it as “positive”.
Incirlik Base, which maintains an American and Turkish presence, has been used to launch combat operations against Daesh militias since 2015 and is the permanent residence of the 39th Air Base Wing of the US Air Force. The base is also the storage site for Turkey’s share of the US’ tactical nuclear weapons.