Air Force, Army Seek Upgrades at Sites in Turkey

Three U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs taxi along the flightline on July 15 at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (US Air Force photo/Kristan Campbell)
Three U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs taxi along the flightline on July 15 at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (US Air Force photo/Kristan Campbell)

STUTTGART, Germany -- The United States wants to spend more than $30 million to upgrade military facilities in Turkey, including the strategic Incirlik Air Base and a discrete outpost used by soldiers operating quietly along NATO's southern flank.

The U.S. Air Force is seeking about $26 million to build new dormitory for airmen at Incirlik, a key base supporting operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

The funding request, along with another $6.4 million from the Army for an undisclosed "forward operating site," is part of the White House's proposed 2018 budget. The earmarks for Turkey are a sign that the U.S. has no immediate intention of pivoting missions away from that country despite an authoritarian drift that has alarmed fellow NATO allies.

While the Air Force has been a fixture in Turkey dating back to the early days of the Cold War, the Army's role in Turkey is more opaque.

The service quietly mans a missile defense radar at a small outpost in eastern Turkey about 450 miles from the Iranian border. The system is linked to the U.S.'s broader missile defense effort, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which is designed to protect allies from threats in the region. As missile defense efforts advance in Europe, the military could need to expand facilities in Turkey.

U.S. Army Europe declined to discuss details of the $6.4 million to be spent on an unnamed forward operating site, citing operational security concerns.

The plan at Incirlik is to build dormitories to accommodate 216 Security Forces airmen, situating the personnel closer to the base's defense operations center. The project will improve response times for airmen handling base security, the Air Force said.

Since families left Incirlik in 2016 over security concerns, the Air Force has converted vacated family housing into unaccompanied housing. "These houses are not vacant; we have a 95 percent occupancy rate," said Master Sgt. Vanessa Kilmer, a base spokeswoman.

The former school complex has also been revamped to include a fitness center, dining facility and leadership school, she said.

The military's mission in Turkey continues despite growing international concern over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on opposition figures, judges and various civic institutions in the wake of an attempted coup in July 2016. Erdogan has lashed out at his Western critics while drawing closer to Russia.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, analysts in the Turkish media accused the U.S. of having had a hand in the mutiny, which involved elements of the Turkish air force based at Incirlik.

Washington has rejected such accusations.

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