According to, The New York Times report U.S. government is reportedly examining multiple plans for how it might remove approximately 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs it keeps in ready storage at the American-operated portion of Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base.
This comes a week after Turkey launched an operation into northern Syria targeting the primarily Kurdish U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. This intervention has precipitated an all-new crisis in the region, prompted the start of at least a tactical withdrawal of U.S. forces from much of the country amid concerns they could be caught in the fighting, and led to calls for an arms embargo and major sanctions on the Turkish government.
Two officials told the paper that State and Energy Department officials were quietly examining ways to remove the tactical nukes, with one official saying they were effectively hostage to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
“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 paper said.
The US Air Force declined to answer questions about possible nuclear weapons at the base or whether they would be moved.
In an email to Air Force Times, spokesperson Ann Stefanek said there have been no daily operations changes at the base.
It’s not the first time the security of the nuclear weapons stationed on the base in southern Turkey, just 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the border with war-torn Syria, has been raised.
In the 1970s, when war between Greece (which also stores nuclear weapons) and Turkey seemed imminent, the US moved its nuclear stockpile from Greece and disabled the bombs in Turkey.
Following the 2016 attempted coup in Syria, a leading think tank warned the weapons could fall into the hands of “terrorists or other hostile forces.”
While the US’s relationship with Turkey has been strained due in part to Turkey’s decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system, the fact remains that a substantial part of the US’s nuclear arsenal is housed at Inçirlik Air Base.
The bombs have been housed there since the 1960s, The New Yorker reports. Even at that time, US officials worried about Turkey and other NATO members using the weapons without the permission or knowledge of the US.
Concerns about the B61s are undoubtedly higher now given the current situation in neighboring Syria. On Oct. 11, 2019, Turkish artillery “bracketed” a U.S. military position in the Syrian city of Kobane, firing shells within just hundreds of feet of the outpost edges of the outpost. This highly strategic city sits right on the border with Turkey and, at the time of writing, is under SDF control. The Pentagon has insisted that its Turkish counterparts know all of the locations of U.S. forces in Syria and this appears to have been a deliberate attempt to get the Americans to abandon their post, which they did, but only temporarily.
“In the last 24 hours, we learned that they [the Turkish military] likely intend to expand their attack further south than originally planned – and to the west,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in an interview on Oct. 13, 2019. “I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria,” Esper continued.
Turkey began a planned military offensive codenamed Operation Peace Spring into northeastern Syria on, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the Trump administration announced it was pulling US troops back from the area.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the offensive – which began with air raids on Tuesday – is aimed at removing Kurdish-led forces from the border area and creating a “safe zone” so millions of Syrian refugees can be returned.