Pro-government Turkish daily Yenisafak, has claimed that Turkey will use the Incirlik Airbase as a bargaining chip to stop the US from backing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a prominent force in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) leading the Raqqa operation.
According to Yenisafak, “Turkey is prepared for possible scenarios with the YPG. Considering the logistical contribution to US air operations, the utilisation permit of Incirlik Airbase is an important leverage to convince the US against working with the YPG.”
Incirlik Air base, located in the Incirlik province of the southern city of Adana, has strategic importance to the US. Most of the US’ air operations targeting the IS group have been conducted from Incirlik, with jets flying from the aircraft carrier located in the Mediterranean sea. Fuel delivering air tanks also take off from Incirlik airbase or US jets have to stop at Incirlik Air base for fuel delivery. US F-14 jets taking off from the aircraft carrier have been using Turkish air space to fly Syria and Iraq. If Turkey closes its air space, the US won’t be able to conduct any of its air operations through Turkey.
“If the US insists on operating with the PKK-PYD-YPG [Kurdistan Workers’ Party-Democratic Union Party-People’s Protection Units], American jets won’t be allowed to lift off [from Incirlik],” the Turkish daily reported.
Turkish authorities are still negotiating with the US on what course the Raqqa operation will take. Authorities have been awaiting a response from the US regarding Turkey’s proposal for two separate plans to take Raqqa.
However Turkey’s Defence Minister Fikri Isik, who met with American counterpart James Mattis recently conceded defeat saying, “We talked about this with Mattis, but he told us that they have no other plan other than the current one with the YPG.”
On Monday Turkish president Erdogan threatened that the Turkey-backed FSA would target SDF-held Manbij, a move that has been viewed as a warning to halt the Raqqa operation. “Now that al-Bab has been cleared from Daesh [IS], the YPG terrorist-held Manbij is Turkey’s next target.”
PKK commander Murat Karayilan responded saying Turkey was “bluffing” with claims it would enter Manbij and join the Raqqa operation. Karayilan said Turkey would not be able to enter Manbij or Raqqa without US and Russian approval.
Ankara has declared several times that it is ready to share expertise with the US in tackling IS and becoming an ally on the ground, if the US respects Turkey’s ‘sensitivities’ about the PKK/PYD/YPG. Otherwise, Turkey will not let the US use Incirlik Airbase, Yenisafak reported.
The US reaction in case of a ban is unknown. Yet it will likely throw relations between the NATO allies into disarray. The US has denied supporting Kurdish forces in Syria saying it is only supporting the Arab coalition within the SDF.
US President Donald Trump is expected to reveal detailed plans for the capture of Raqqa in the coming days.