The United States military announced it started withdrawing a dozen fighter jets from an air base in Turkey almost a month after a Turkish air force plane shot down a Russian jet near the Syrian border.
US European Command announced on Wednesday that the US military will move 12 F-15 aircraft from Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base back to their base in Britain.
Officials said they consider sending other attack planes to Turkey.
The US military had deployed six F-15e Strike Eagles jets to Turkey in November to bolster the purported air campaign against the Daesh (ISIL) terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
Six other air-to-air interceptor jets, F-15c Eagles, were also deployed to the base to help boost Turkish defenses and conduct training runs with Turkish fighter planes. The aircraft were also meant to increase the ability of Turkish and American pilots to fly together.
Last month, a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet, claiming the warplane had violated Turkish airspace. Moscow, however, insists the jet never left Syrian airspace.
US officials, however, denied that the withdrawal of the F-15 jets had anything to do with Turkey’s downing of Russian jet. They said the deployments were always intended to be short-term.
The sudden withdrawal is surprising given that the Pentagon had previously urged European allies to use Incirlik as a launching platform for airstrikes against Daesh.
Russia has been conducting airstrikes on Daesh positions in Syria at the request of the Syrian government since September 30.
Since July, the United States has sent more than 1000 troops to join the 300 other personnel already in Turkey. The number of US planes has also jumped from fewer than 10 drones to a total of 45 aircraft.
Over the weekend, the US and Turkey agreed on new rules of engagement that will allow the two countries to fly combat air patrols.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Turkey on Tuesday to discuss the fight against the terrorist group.
The US has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria, allegedly pounding Daesh positions inside the country, since last September. The terrorists, some of whom were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now control parts of Syria and Iraq.
The United States and its regional allies – especially Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar – have been supporting the militants operating inside Syria since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011.