Last Minute Breaking:
In an earthshaking Middle East development, the United States has begun secretly evacuating the tactical nuclear weapons it had stockpiled at the southern Turkish air base of Incirlik and is transferring them to US bases in Romania.
The Obama administration has thus taken another step towards folding its tents in the Middle East.
In contrast, Moscow is rapidly expanding its air force footprint in the region with a new base in Iran following its facility in Syria. Advanced bombers and fighters are stepping up operations in both countries, while Russian warships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles gather in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas.
Our military and intelligence sources report that Washington decided to remove the nuclear arsenal to safety after talks broke down between American and Turkish on the release of 1,500 US airmen serving at the base from the siege clamped down a month ago. They ground to a halt over Turkey’s insistence on assuming control of the nuclear arsenal and America’s rejection of this demand. (See earlier report below.)
The deteriorations of relations between Ankara and Washington contrasted strongly with the Turkish-
Russian rapprochement, which Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin sealed in St. Petersburg on Aug. 8. Since then, there have been calls for the Russian Air Force to be allowed to displace the US warplanes at Incirlik. This process has now begun.
End of last-minute breaking.
Pentagon officials have claimed – albeit in conflicting statements – that the siege of the US facility and personnel at the Incirlik air base is over, a month after it was clamped down by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he scotched a coup against him.
However, the information reaching DEBKA Weekly’s military sources tells a different story.
The siege continues on and off, but is no less threatening. Western military intelligence observers report that American commanders and the 1,500 US air force personnel serving on the base never know when the Turks will impose the next lockdown or another power cut.
The Turks are deliberately generating these jitters.
A Western source said. "Their armored vehicles once in a while take up new positions around the base – only to take off a few hours later. Convoys of heavy trucks circle the base as through they are practicing siege tactics. Now and again, the power supply to the base shuts down for short spells before returning to normal."
Another source noted that the tens of trucks appear to be ready at a moment’s notice to move in and block access routes to the base and the runways used by the US planes, helicopters and drones for air strikes in Syria, just 112 km from the Incirlik base.
In these conditions, the US military personnel find it almost impossible to conduct orderly military action from Incirlik. “You never know what the Turks will do next – or when,” says one source. “US commanders must divide their attention between running operations in Syria and Turkish army harassment".
In the hope of some relief, the American commanders of the facility suggested meeting every few days, or even daily, with their Turkish counterparts.
But at their first meeting in the last week of July, they were completely bowled over when their Turkish interlocutors slapped down a demand to be represented in the US teams supervising the US nuclear weapons arsenal stored at Incirlik. This was taken as a bid for control of the arsenal, which consists of an estimated 50 to 70 B61 tactical nuclear gravity bombs stored in underground bunkers near the US runways.
At first, the US commanders tried to ignore the Turkish demand and move on to other issues. However, at the next meeting, the Turks officers insisted on this issue taking precedence over any other. The US-Turkish encounters accordingly came to a standstill.
Even during polite chitchats with handshakes, Turkish officers continue to harp on the demand to share in the control of the US nukes.
On Aug. 15, the Washington Stimson Center think tank published a report that recalled the debkafile exclusive disclosure of July 21 and warned that dozens of US nuclear weapons stored at a Turkish air base near Syria are at risk of being captured by "terrorists or other hostile forces."
The report said that critics had long been alarmed by America's estimated stockpile of about 50 nuclear bombs at Incirlik in southern Turkey and added: "Whether the US could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question."
Indeed it is!