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Retired 4-star Air Force general says US must move nukes out of Turkey ASAP

Airmen spread out around the flightline to begin a foreign-object-debris walk to remove trash and other objects from the area May 29, 2012, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The FOD walk was a combined effort between the 39th Air Base Wing and Turkish air force 10th Tanker Base Command to clear the area of debris that could potentially damage aircraft engines. (Senior Airman Marissa Tucker/U.S. Air Force)
November 19, 2019

A retired four-star Air Force general remains concerned about U.S. trust in Turkey, and has advised removing nuclear weapons from a NATO base in Turkey.

In an interview with Bloomberg military affairs writer Tobin Harshaw, retired Gen. Chuck Wald questioned the U.S. ability to trust Turkey as a NATO ally. Wald also discussed the U.S. presence at Turkey’s Incirlik airbase where some 50 B61 nuclear bombs are reportedly located.

“I think that the most pressing concern for the U.S. now is that we have nuclear capabilities at Incirlik that no longer serve the same strategic purpose that they did in the past,” Wald said. “Given the growing strain of anti-Americanism in Turkey and Erdogan’s willingness to move closer toward Russia, we urgently need to relocate those weapons.”

Wald raised the prospect of relocating those nuclear weapons following a pattern of tensions between the U.S. and Turkey. Among those tensions are reports of Turkish attacks on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, and Turkish actions to draw closer to Russia. Turkey has purchased the Russian S-400 missile defense system; an action that prompted U.S. and European allies to cut Turkey off from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Previous issues at the Incirlik air base have also come about after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered U.S. aerial assets grounded following an attempted coup against the Turkish government in 2016. Wald also noted Erdogan’s allegations of U.S. involvement in the 2016 coup. Turkey also issued recent threats to flood Europe with ISIS fighters escaping from war zones in the Middle East.

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Wald said it would be relatively feasible to relocate U.S. nuclear weapons to other bases in Europe, such as Aviano Air Base in Italy.

“The U.S. also has the 39th Air Wing stationed at Incirlik. These forces, too, should be up for relocation. Readily available basing alternatives exist in Cyprus and Greece,” Wald said.

Wald said relocating the 39th Air Wing to Greece would satisfy Greek desires to be more involved in NATO actions, and “kill two birds with one stone.” Wald appeared to dismiss concerns the action could cause conflict between Turkey and Greece and stir additional fallout between Turkey and NATO.

“Unfortunately, the truth is NATO doesn’t have a suspension or ejection mechanism for its members. Incirlik aside, we’ve seen how Turkey has been actively operating against NATO interests for far too long now,” Wald said.

He said the case with Turkey should move NATO to implement measures for dealing with allies that act counter to NATO interests. For the time being, Wald said NATO “should not give an inch” regarding Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system and the subsequent decision to exclude them from the Joint Strike Fighter program.