The Department of Defense on Tuesday denied comments from a senator who suggested the US was building up its capacity on a Greek island as a replacement for its presence at a Turkish air base.
US Department of Defense denied comments from a senator who suggested the US was building up its capacity on a Greek island as a replacement for its presence at a Turkish air base.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Campbell told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday the US "has no plans to end our presence at Incirlik Air Base" after Senator Ron Johnson told the Washington Examiner newspaper that the US is seeking to increase its presence at the naval base on Crete as an alternative.
"The US has operated at Incirlik Air Base for decades at the invitation of the Turkish government, and our continued presence there demonstrates the ongoing and strong relationship between the United States and our NATO Ally Turkey,” Campbell said in an email exchange.
Johnson, an influential Republican senator who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview published last week that US officials are ramping up efforts to leave Incirlik amid tensions between Washington and Ankara that have been exacerbated by a series of issues.
Those include US support for the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terrorist group, Turkey's purchase of an advanced Russian air defense system and the subsequent US decision to remove Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program.
Johnson told the Examiner the US wants "to maintain our full presence and cooperation in Turkey” but said the tensions are prompting officials to expedite a withdrawal.
“I don’t think we want to make that strategic shift, but I think, from a defensive posture, I think we have to look at the reality of the situation,” he said.
"We're already looking at Greece as an alternative.”
In particular, Johnson said the US is seeking to bolster its naval base in Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete.
NATO allies rely on the Incirlik air base in southeastern Turkey as a staging point for access to the Middle East. The alliance runs aerial surveillance operations from Incirlik.