Commander of Air Base Holding US Nukes Arrested After Turkey Coup Attempt
On Sunday, Turkish authorities arrested the commander of Incirlik airbase General Bekir Ercan Van, putting in question US-led anti-Daesh operations that are launched from the Turkish base, as well as relevancy of storing American nukes there.
Bekir Ercan Van was detained at the base along with a number of lower-ranking officers on suspicion of the complicity in the military coup attempt in the country. The news came amid a large-scale “cleansing” operation aimed at capturing all the coup plotters. By that moment, around 6,000 people have been arrested.
Incirlik is separated in Turkish and NATO parts. The latter is used for launching anti-Daesh air-raids in Syria and Iraq on regular basis. It hosts some 2,500 US military staff and stores 90 American nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, the movement in and out of the base was blocked until the end of anti-coup raids. The power supply of the base has been also cut off. The US officials said that the measures were taken to prevent those engaged in the revolt from fleeing Turkey.
Amid claims that the coup was organized by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric located in the US, relations between Ankara and Washington reached a milestone low, casting a shadow on the joint use of the Incirlik by both countries. Meanwhile, the situation in Turkey, and at the Incirlik in particular, remains unstable with reports stating that 42 helicopters have gone missing from the base, causing concerns that the American nuclear arsenal is in danger.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope that the recent events won’t affect joint military operations in longer perspective. He also addressed the hurdles that US personnel experienced in the aftermath of the revolt, as “there may have been some refueling that took place with the Turkish Air Force with planes that were flying in the coup itself.”
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook claimed that anti-Daesh operations had been resumed, adding that power outages don’t affect the American part of the facility that is supplied with energy by its own generators.
Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy also said in an interview with Wall Street Journal that the “resignation of dozens if not hundreds of generals will have a debilitating effect on the military’s effectiveness.” However, Western officials remain optimistic. According to a US official talking to WSJ, the military top-level leadership “understands the importance of the alliance” and will likely stay in power so cooperation will return to normal soon.