"I believe that the time has come to return the bases provided by Turkey to NATO and the United States, mainly Incirlik and Kurecik, and nationalise them in the full sense of the word," says Ceyhun Bozkurt, Turkish political commentator, author of several studies on Turkish-American relations.
Turkey has faced fundamental problems and tensions in relations with the United States, according to the commentator. He highlights that Washington has taken an overtly anti-Turkish position on a number of key issues, starting with the embargo against Turkey and ending with the Americans backing of military coups.
"The time is long overdue for building a more independent relationship with the United States and NATO," he says. "In this context, I advocate… bringing relations between Turkey and NATO to an independent diplomatic level and transforming them from a superior-subordinate relationship into a relationship of equal independent states."
Currently, the Incirlik base hosts the 39th Air Base Wing (39 ABW) of the US Air Force, including approximately 1,500 US troops, A-10 Thunderbolt II jets, the F-15 and F-16 fighters, while refuelling aircraft are also located at the base. The press also occasionally reports about the deployment of aircraft equipped with Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS), in Incirlik. AWACS is a mobile, long-range radar surveillance system and control centre for air defence.
The press also reported that 50 B61-12 type nuclear bombs are located at Incirlik.
"According to foreign reports a certain number of US-owned tactical nuclear warheads are deployed on the base," says Bozkurt. "However, due to the lack of accurate and confirmed data by official sources, this information is largely perceived as rumours."
Meanwhile, a number of other countries, primarily Germany, use this base from time to time as part of coalition operations to combat Daesh*.
Speaking to the Anadolu Agency earlier this week, an unnamed source from Turkey’s Ministry of National Defence noted that all military bases on the country's territory should be subordinate to Turkish generals. “Incirlik is one of the bases of the Turkish Air Force, and all its infrastructure belongs to the Turkish Republic," the source added.
Incirlik Air Base: US Cold War Foothold
Turkey formally joined NATO in February 1952 during the Cold War. The construction of the Incirlik base, which is located 250 miles southeast of Ankara, began in the spring of 1951. In December 1954, the Turkish General Staff and the US Air Force signed a joint use agreement for the new base. Initially, the Americans planned to use the foothold as an emergency staging and recovery site for medium and heavy bombers.
Incirlik was used in a large number of operations, both during the Cold War and afterwards. In the early 1960s, US-owned U-2 reconnaissance aircraft were deployed there, which sparked tensions between Turkey and the Soviet Union, the political commentator recalls.
According to the base's official website, many types of aircraft including F-4 Phantoms, F-15 Eagles, F-16 Falcons, F-111 Aardvarks, and A-10 Thunderbolts were deployed to Incirlik Air Base throughout the 1970s and 1980s, except during the Cyprus Crisis.
In March 1980, Washington and Ankara stepped up military cooperation by signing a new Defence and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA). The accords provided the fundamental legal basis for the presence of Americans at the base, according to Bozkurt.
"The Incirlik base was used by the United States for various purposes during operations in the Middle East, including the withdrawal of American citizens during the Arab-Israeli War and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. And during the first operation in the Persian Gulf from the Incirlik base, air support was provided to the American military in northern Iraq," Bozkurt notes.
All in all, the base plays an active role in the implementation of NATO missions, the commentator notes, insisting that Turkey should take full control of the military installations.
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.