After an attempted coup unfolded on the streets of Istanbul and Turkish capital Ankara, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Turkish government closed the airspace around a U.S. air base in the southern part of the country. The closure will temporarily stop coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State.
Turkish and U.S. government officials restricted the airspace surrounding the Incirlik Air Base in attempts to “prevent rogue aircrafts from targeting civilians and government buildings,” the WSJ cites a senior Turkish official as saying. Per the official, the government suspects that pilots participating in the military coup that ended in the early hours of Saturday refueled aircraft at the base.
As of March 2013—the most recent update on base size and population from the Incirlik Air Base website—the base spanned 3,323 acres in southern Turkey and maintain $1.5 billion in real property. On its more than 3,000 acres, the base had 749 facilities and 850 housing units as of three years ago. At the time, the base housed about 4,800 people.
The closure of the base is a temporary one, and the WSJ reports that restrictions originally prevented people from entering and leaving the base. That’s no longer the case, but military personnel—including about 1,700 people from the U.S.—have reportedly been ordered not to leave the base.
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The senior official quoted by the WSJ added that closing the airspace around the base “won’t have significant effect on coalition operations,” and that those in Washington understand the concerns of Turkish officials that led to the closure.
Power was also cut at the base early on Saturday, per the WSJ. Backup generators were the power supply for the base at the time of the report, and some experts said the military relations between the U.S. and Turkey would be affected by the coup. From the WSJ:
“The power cut to Incirlik is a temporary thing,” said Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador in Turkey until 2011. “I do not see Turkey, the president trying to modify the base agreement because of the coup.”
Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top NATO commander and head of the U.S. military in Europe, said that Turkey remained an important partner in the coalition against Islamic State, also known as by the acronym ISIL.
Incirlik is a significant base for coalition attacks on the on the Islamic State, and its temporary closure does a number on that operation. According to the New York Times, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said officials were “working with the Turks to resume air operations there as soon as possible.”
Until air operations resume, the WSJ reports that the work done at Incirlik will move to other bases.