Some 1,500 US airmen and their families have been locked in the southern Turkish air base of Incirlik together with a stock if tactical nuclear bombs since President Reccep Erdogan crushed an attempted coup on Saturday, July 16. In the four days up until Wednesday, July 20, therefore, no air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq have been staged that Turkish base.
This extraordinary situation, reported here by DEBKAfile’s military sources, whereby a large group of American military personnel are held virtual captive by an allied government, was almost certainly raised in the phone call that took place Tuesday between President Barack Obama and Erdogan. But the most outlandish aspect of this affair is that no American official has raised it in public - nor even by the administrations most vocal critics at the Republican convention which nominated Donald Trump as presidential candidate.
The situation only rated a brief mention in some Russian publications under the heading: “Turkish investigators enter & search Incirlik air base where US nukes are housed.”
Our military sources report that deep bunkers located near the base’s running strips house B61 tactical nuclear gravity bombs.
In the course of the massive sweep-cum-purge Erdogan is conducting in every corner of the country, hundreds of police officers accompanied by Ministry of Justice and Attorney General Office investigators are the only people permitted to enter the strategic air base, and only emergency cases may leave, after coordinating with the Turkish authorities.
The base is under virtual siege by large police contingents, cut off from electric power for several days except for local generators which will soon run out of fuel. This pressure appears to be Erdogan’s method of turning hundreds of Americans on the base into hostages to force Washington into extraditing Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of orchestrating the failed coup from his place of asylum in Pennsylvania.
The victims of Erdogan’s strategy of extortion are several US units deployed in Incirlik under squadron command. They include engineering, communication, logistics, air control, a military hospital with medical and operational facilities, air transportation and more.
The Turkish squadron and base commander, Brigadier Gen. Bekir Ercan, is under arrest, suspected of a senior role in planning and executing the coup, by assigning the aircraft and helicopters to support it, responsibility for the disappearance of a large number of aircraft and aiding the defection of air crews to Greece.
He is one of the more than 6,000 military personnel including fellow generals arrested on suspicion of active complicity in the coup plot.
By Wednesday, more than 50,000 people had been rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs by Turkey's government in the wake of last week's failed coup, including 9,000 police officers, the suspension of about 3,000 judges and widening Tuesday to include teachers, university deans and the media who are accused of links with Gulen.
However, fears for the fate of the US airmen trapped in Incirlik and the tactical nukes were exacerbated by the comments of two top officials of the Erdogan regime Tuesday.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim insinuated that the Americans may be viewed as partners, at least passive ones, in the conspiracy, in view of the use the plotters made of Incirlik for sending aircraft based there and arming them for the missions of intercepting the President’s airplane (which was never realized) and bombing the Parliament building in Ankara (which was).
The Turkish Labor Minister, Süleyman Soylu, was more explicit: “This coup has America behind,” he twitted in his Twitter account.
The Obama administration’s caution over the scary Incirlik impasse appears to derive from trepidation, shared by Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem, that the autocratic Turkish ruler’s Stalinist purge reaching into all branches of government and all walks of Turkish society is part and parcel of a comprehensive Muslim revolution underway in Turkey. An incautious word from Washington may quicken the process.