US support for the YPG, a step which has angered Turkey, and increased US co-operation with the Saudi-led Gulf states, who impose a blockade on Qatar, has sparked rumours about the US closing its military bases in Turkey and Qatar.

A United States Air Force cargo plane on the runway after it landed at the Incirlik Air Base, on the outskirts of the city of Adana, southern Turkey, Friday, July 31, 2015.
A United States Air Force cargo plane on the runway after it landed at the Incirlik Air Base, on the outskirts of the city of Adana, southern Turkey, Friday, July 31, 2015. (AP)

Reports about the US army closing two air bases which are crucial for its operations in the region, Incirlik military air base in Turkey and Al Udeid military air base in Qatar, were denied by the US. According to a statement by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) on March 25, these reports were false.

The US Air Forces Central Command (USAFCENT) has also rejected the claims. 

How did the rumours start?

Tensions have risen between Turkey and the US in recent years, especially after the US began supporting the YPG in Syria. YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, a US and Turkey-designated terror group which has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years.

Turkey had opened the Incirlik air base for the US-led coalition's air operations in Syria in July 2015, and since then the US has been using the military air base for its operations against Daesh. But on the ground, there was the YPG, which took control of the areas Daesh defeated. Another reason for the tension was the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, which was led by FETO or Fetullah Terrorist Organisation, another group which Turkey has designated as terrorist.  FETO's leader, Fetullah Gulen, is in self-exile in the US and Turkey has been asking for his extradition. The request hasn't been met yet.

Turkey temporarily closed down the Incirlik base right after the July 15 attempted coup, because some soldiers in the base were part of the coup attempt.

These tensions have led to occasional rumours that Turkey would ask the US to leave the base, but they turned out to be false.

And on June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia-led Gulf countries and Egypt imposed an embargo on Qatar, claiming Qatar was funding “terrorism” and maintains cordial relations with Iran, which Doha denies the allegations.

Even though there were different reactions from the Pentagon and the State Department showing solidarity with Qatar, US President Donald Trump supported the Saudi-led Gulf countries.

The focus of Trump's Middle East policy, which attempted to curb Iran's influence, has led to the US taking some steps in the region, such as creating stronger ties with Saudi Arabia. Trump's remarks on Iran culminated in a new US strategy on Iran that centred on “neutralising ... Iran’s destabilising influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants,” and “revitalising” alliances and regional partnerships against Iran.

As a neighbour of Syria, Turkey is co-operating with Iran and Russia on Syria.

Incirlik Air Base

Incirlik Air Base is controlled by the Turkish state, and the US military is allowed to use the air base within the scope of NATO operations, according to the 1980 Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement between the US and Turkey. 

If required, other NATO allies are allowed to send their troops there, again within the scope of a joint-NATO operation. 

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952.

Incirlik is located in Adana, one of the biggest cities in Turkey, and is nearly 50 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea in the south.

The air base hosts around 2,500 US troops along with hundreds of Turkish troops.

A decision to build the Incirlik Air Base was made at the Second Cairo Conference in 1943. However, construction was postponed to 1951 because of World War II.

The base has played a crucial role during the Cold War, because of its geographical closeness to the Soviet Union. It was also important for US soldiers to be near Lebanon and Israel.

In 1970s, the US and Turkish relations faced another crisis when the US government decided to impose an arms embargo on Turkey, criticising its NATO ally because of its military intervention in Cyprus.

The Turkish government then shut down all military bases hosting US troops across the country, and transferred control to the Turkish military, with the exception of Incirlik Air Base and Izmir Air Base. The reason for these two bases remaining open was because of agreements with NATO allies. That's why Turkey pushed for the 1980 agreement, which gave all control to the Turkish state.

The Turkish parliament had denied the US permission to use the base to store their military equipment before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Al Udeid Air Base

Qatar built Al Udeid Air Base in the southwest of Doha in 1996, at the cost of more than $1 billion. It has one of the longest runways in the Persian Gulf region.

According to the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), which Qatar and the US signed on June 23,1992, this provides access for the US to use military bases in Qatar, and Al Udeid air base was given to the US military.

The military base is home to United State Air Force Central Command (USAFCC) and United States Central Command (USCC). It is legally owned and operated by Qatari armed forces.

 Al Udeid was used by the US during the intervention in Afghanistan in 2001. The US positioned its aircraft for bombardment and technical support in Afghanistan. There were around 3,000 US soldiers in the base.

President Bush reaches out to cheering American troops at Al Udeid air base in Doha, Qatar, as he prepares to board Air Force One for a return flight to Washington, Thursday June 5, 2003.
President Bush reaches out to cheering American troops at Al Udeid air base in Doha, Qatar, as he prepares to board Air Force One for a return flight to Washington, Thursday June 5, 2003. (AP)

Today, dozens of aircraft and nearly 10,000 troops are deployed in Al Udeid air base by the US.

The base was also planned for the use of operations in Iraq after 2003, and in Syria against Daesh after 2014. 

In 2001, the US began to shift its technological infrastructure, including computers, communications and intelligence equipment, from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to Al Udeid to build an alternative command centre. This was thought to be in preparation for the invasion of Iraq, according to a FOX News report.

Former defence secretary Robert M Gates highlighted the importance of Al Udeid, saying, “It’s the freedom of operation. Qatar is the only country in the region that allows us to land B-52s, and put B-52s at their base in Al Udeid. We have run operations out of there for a dozen years.”

Legal structure of the bases

Turkey allows the US military to use the Incirlik air base within the scope of NATO operations. In circumstances other than a NATO operation, the US needs consent from the Turkish parliament.  

Al Udeid Air Base which belongs to the Qatari military, serves the US military. The US has the right to use the base in order to operate its aerial operations, deploy troops and use it as an intelligence service centre, under a bilateral agreement made in 2018.

Qatar signed an agreement with NATO to allow NATO troops and personnel to enter and use the Al Udeid Air Base in March 2018. According to the agreement, NATO was to use the base for its missions and operations in the region, including the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

Procedure for closure 

The Department of Defense of the United States has the right to close and realign its overseas bases. There is no statutory law about closing a US overseas base. Congress has no authority and jurisdiction on the closure processes of bases outside the country. 

The US secretary of defense is responsible for final decision to close an overseas military base. According to an article written by Richard A Wegman Jr and Harold G Bailey for Ecology Law Quarterly, a journal staffed by Berkeley Law students,‘"Individual base commanders propose overseas closure decisions and then transmit their recommendations to Washington for review. This centralized decision-making process generally allows foreign base closures to proceed much more quickly than domestic base closures.’’

Source: TRT World