Responding to NATO’s pledge to help Turkey counter the threat of Islamic State militant radicals, the United States sent its first military support this weekend to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
In addition to the six F-16 fighters, a C-5 transport, a KC-135 refueling jet, and about 300 personnel of the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano Air Base, Italy round out the force sent to Turkey.
Incirlik Air Base places American jets within 30 minutes of the ISIS militants, ideally placed to respond at a moment’s notice.
European members of NATO have been reluctant to honor the Turkish request for assistance, seeing this as more of an internal issue of the Turkish government battling the Kurdish rebels of the eastern regions.
It is still unclear if the United States will establish a no-fly zone on Turkey’s southern border, or even how deeply the American military will become involved in this NATO mission.
In other relevant news, the USS Theodore Roosevelt will leave the Gulf in October, creating a two-month gap in carrier support in the region. While the Navy has tried to downplay this carrier-gap, they cannot easily explain away the fact that the Navy still takes up 20 percent of the attack missions against the Islamic State, which won’t be easily covered without significant Air Force buildup in the region.
The Navy claims that increased dependence on the carrier force from 2010 has created gaps in the maintenance and is potentially shortening the service life of the carriers in-service if they go without needed regular maintenance.
A similar carrier-gap happened this year in the Pacific Fleet, with three carriers docked in San Diego at the same time while doing maintenance and a crew rotation — even with the biggest carrier fleet in the world, the Navy sees it as potentially being stressed.
Access to the Incirlik Air Base could become one of America’s most important regional assets, without having carrier support in the region, and it is likely we will see increased activity against the Islamic State from Southern Turkey.