WASHINGTON — Thousands of Turks tried to take control of a US Air Force base this summer, where at least 50 nuclear bombs are stored, raising the possibility that radical Islamists could take control of dozens of America’s most dangerous weapons.
The facility, Incirlik Air Force Base, is just 70 miles from Syria, where ISIS is fighting. Adding to the tension, Turkey Wednesday sent tanks into Syria to battle ISIS.
Some estimates put the number of bombs at the facility as high as 90.
“From a security point of view, it’s a roll of the dice to continue to have approximately 50 of America’s nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” Lucie Heeley of the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, told the AFP wire service.
The Stimson Center issued a report August 14 that warned that the nuclear bombs kept at the facility were in danger of falling into the hands of “terrorists or other hostile forces.”
The protestors who stormed the gates in late July blamed the US for a July 15 military coup that tried to remove Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power, Peter Pry wrote at Newsmax. The coup collapsed and left Turkey in chaos.
“While we’ve avoided disaster so far, we have ample evidence that the security of U.S. nuclear weapons stored in Turkey can change literally overnight,” former White House National Security Council staffer Steve Andreasen wrote in The Los Angeles Times on August 11.
Andreasen said the stockpile – what he called one of the largest in Europe — should be removed from Incirlik.
Incirlik is technically a Turkish base, although a large numbers of Americans are stationed there due to it being a NATO facility. The troops guarding the base are Turks, but those protecting the nuclear weapons are Americans.
“Leaving aside the coup, what if Islamic State were to attack Incirlik?” Andreasen wrote, using the other name for ISIS. “In March, the Pentagon reportedly ordered military families out of southern Turkey, primarily from Incirlik, due to terrorism-related security concerns. … As was the case in 1979, the warning bells are ringing.”
Incirlik is a likely target for an ISIS attack because it is the main staging area for US air attacks against the terrorist group. The base is about 70 miles from the Syrian border, and much of Syria is controlled by ISIS.
About 180 US B-61 nuclear bombs are stored in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey, Pry wrote.
“The axiom ‘history makes fools of us all’ may be about to come true at Incirlik,” Pry wrote. “For decades U.S. policymakers and analysts have worried that nuclear weapons might come into the possession of a radical Islamist state through Pakistan or Iran. No one anticipated that radical Islam might takeover Turkey and that Turkey might seize U.S. nuclear weapons.”
Turkey, under Erdogan, “is well on its way to becoming a radical Islamist state,” Pry wrote.
“Now as Erdogan takes his revenge against moderates and secularists suspected of disloyalty, Turkey virtually overnight looks less like a member of NATO, subscribing to the norms of international human rights, and more like Iran.
Regen Trahe, an analysist of Indian affairs, wrote that a “Sunni nuclear axis with Turkey and Saudi Arabia might soon be a reality.”
“In the Sunni Islamist worldview . . . all non-Muslim states are . . . colluding against Islam,” Trahe wrote. “To all three, the strategic benefits of a nuclear axis are undeniable. For Pakistan . . . to emerge as a leader of the Islamic world has always been its ambition . . . As for Turkey, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is turning the country into a quasi-Ottoman state . . . For all three, the creation of a Sunni nuclear axis covering Turkic, Arab and South Asian Muslims, who make up the bulk of the world Islamic population, promises a powerful reorientation from their current secondary role in the global public space.”
Pry concluded: “Turkey could overnight become a nuclear weapons state, and leader of Traje’s envisioned Sunni Islamist axis, by seizing the B-61s at Incirlik.”
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