US Plans to Start Launching Air Operations in Syria from Three Iraqi Bases

The US military has told Iraqi army units and Shiite militias to quickly remove themselves from the strategic K1 Kaiwan Air Base in Kirkuk, as American troops begin arriving from Syria and the western Iraqi province of Anbar.

K1 was used by the US army between its 2003 invasion of Iraq up until 2014, when the Kurdish Peshmerga took over. However, three years later, the Iraqi army and Shiite militias overran the oil-city of Kirkuk and took the base where they have been stationed ever since.

On Jan. 7, Nouri Hama-Ali, the Peshmerga commander of Pirde, near Kirkuk, said that the US command had asked Iraqi forces to leave K1 in order to bring in more troops and convert it into “a large military base.”

DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that the possible redeployment of some US troops exiting Syria to the Kirkuk air base came up in talks US National Security Adviser John Bolton held in Jerusalem this week and was communicated by senior US officers and officials to heads of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia. Bolton indicated that the US air force may continue to operate in Syria from three Iraqi bases: Tallil Air Base at Nasiriyah in the south, Ayn al-Assad in Anbar and K1. However, officials who heard him speak said that he sounded as though the plan was in its preliminary stage and had not developed fully from general ideas bandied about in administration circles regarding America’s post-withdrawal activities in Syria. Questions not yet addressed included which American command center would manage those air units, how much authority it would have and whether the Baghdad government had agreed to the US launching a major air force campaign in Syria from Iraqi soil. American officials suspect that when on Dec. 30, Syrian President Bashar Assad suddenly authorized Iraqi forces to attack ISIS targets in Syria without waiting for permission from Damascus, he was acting on advice from Russia for pre-empting an American plan to mount operations in Syria from bases in Iraq. This question brought US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on hisunannounced trip to Baghdad on Wednesday, Jan. 9. The object of his meeting with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was to procure permission to use the three bases for US aerial operations in Syria.

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