US Access to Turkey's Incirlik Air Base Assured, For Now

An A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft taxis on the flight line after landing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Oct. 15, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush/Released)
An A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft taxis on the flight line after landing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Oct. 15, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush/Released)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dropped his previous harsh criticism of Donald Trump Wednesday and said the new U.S. commander-in-chief could usher in a "new era" of cooperation on the anti-ISIS campaign and access to the Incirlik Air Base.

Erdogan had earlier called for Trump's name to be removed from the Istanbul Trump Towers over the new President-elect's anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric, but his statement on Trump's stunning election win was conciliatory.

"I wish a future full of success" to Trump, Erdogan said. "With this choice, a new era has begun in America. I hope this choice of the American public will contribute to beneficial steps toward basic rights and freedoms, democracy and developments in our region," Erdogan said.

Since the failed July coup in Turkey, the U.S. and Turkey have been at odds over the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in both Iraq and in Syria. Turkey has been demanding a role in the current Mosul offensive in northwestern Iraq for the Turkish military and Turkish-trained tribal militias. The Baghdad government has rejected Turkey's demands.

In northeastern Syria, Turkey has also protested the role of the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units, or YPG, in the just-begun offensive to retake the ISIS stronghold of Raqaa. Turkey has labeled the YPG a terrorist organization.

The friction between the U.S. and Turkey has extended to the Incirlik Air Base, which has been vital to the U.S. air campaign against ISIS in Syria and northern Iraq. Turkey has been pursuing closer ties with Russia, and Turkish officials have periodically suggested that Russia should also have access to Incirlik, which would be a non-starter for the U.S.

Top aides to Erdogan suggested that continued cooperation with the Trump administration could depend upon the U.S. acceding to Turkish demands for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Muslim cleric and former ally of Erdogan who now lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan has blamed Gulen for fomenting the July coup.

"We congratulate Mr. Trump," Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said, but "I am openly calling on the new president from here about the urgent extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the mastermind, executor and perpetrator of the heinous July 15 coup attempt, who lives on U.S. soil."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com

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