US officials from the State and Energy departments are quietly reviewing plans to evacuate up to 50 US tactical nuclear weapons that have long been stored at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey in the wake of Ankara’s military offensive in northern Syria, according to Fox News, citing a report in The New York Times.
The weapons are now essentially being held “hostage” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a senior official told the Times on Monday. To fly them out of Incirlik would be to mark the de facto end of the Turkish-American alliance. To keep them there, though, is to perpetuate a nuclear vulnerability that should have been eliminated years ago, the official added.
The Cold War-era B61 nuclear bombs are said to be located 100 to 250 miles from the Syrian border, according to The Guardian. A former US official told the outlet that Turkish diplomats responded to suggestions about moving the bombs by saying Turkey would start to develop its own.
“The potential problems have been discussed for over a decade,” the former official said. “And now we’ve finally gotten to a point where this is a problem that we can’t ignore anymore.”
Erdoğan has previously expressed a desire to boost Turkey’s nuclear arsenal.
“Some nations have missiles with nuclear warheads — not just one or two. But [they say] I should not have missiles with nuclear warheads. I don’t accept this,” Erdoğan said last month, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday, Oct. 6, that the US would pull all troops from northeast Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish air and ground incursion. Erdoğan’s troops launched an assault on Wednesday and ground forces invaded later that day.
The Pentagon said Friday that US troops near the border town of Kobane in northern Syria came under artillery fire from Turkish positions. No American troops were injured.
“I think this is a first — a country with US nuclear weapons stationed in it literally firing artillery at US forces,” said Jeffrey Lewis, from the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, The Times reported.
In an interview with Fox News, a senior adviser to Erdoğan denied that Turkey had fired at US troops.
Trump said Monday that US troops in northeastern Syria would be withdrawn from the country as planned and redeployed “in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014,” when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group made major territorial gains.