Turkey has been keeping at least two F-16 fighter jets in Azerbaijan over the past few months to act as a deterrent against attacks by Armenian forces.
According to a report in the New York Times yesterday, the two jets have been at Ganja International Airport in Azerbaijan's second largest city since they were deployed in July for a joint training exercise. Evidence of the jets' location was given with satellite images dated 3 October provided by the NYT's visual investigator Christiaan Triebert.
There are at least two F-16s at Ganja International Airport in Azerbaijan, our analysis of an Oct. 3 @planetlabs satellite image shows. The fighter jets are likely operated by the Turkish Air Force, alongside a possible CN-235 cargo aircraft. Here's a short thread why. pic.twitter.com/de1XsmXXZr
— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) October 7, 2020
Following the joint air drill on 31 July after light clashes on the borders of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the F-16s were kept in situ in case of further attacks by Armenian forces and militias in the occupied region, Turkish sources told Middle East Eye.
"The F-16s have been there as a deterrent against any Armenian attacks on civilian populations and military installations within Azerbaijan," said one of the sources. Their presence in Ganja has not meant their participation in the conflict alongside Azeri forces, however. "The jets haven't participated in Azerbaijani operations in the Karabakh region, nor have they shot down an Armenian jet as Yerevan claimed."
The revelation of the Turkish jets' deployment in Azerbaijan comes just over a week after claims by Armenia and Russia that F-16s belonging to Turkey shot down an Armenian SU-25 fighter. That claim was denied by Turkey and there is no evidence that it was involved in the incident.
Despite their deterrent role, the F-16s were forced to fly out of the airport on 4 October after a rocket attack by Armenian forces which resulted in civilian casualties. "Unfortunately the presence of F-16s didn't stop the Armenians," the source told MEE.
Following the renewed and intensified border clashes between Armenian and Azeri forces, Ankara has declared its political and military support for Baku. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Armenia to withdraw from the region, which is recognised internationally as Azerbaijan's territory.
The revelation about the F-16 jets comes after it was also confirmed earlier this week that Turkish drones have been used by Azerbaijan in the conflict.