National Security

Published — April 25, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Turkish military cooperation vital for Libyan intervention


The United States traditionally counted on Turkey as a staunch military ally but the tables may have turned, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Turkish public opinion towards the U.S. has soured a great deal. A 2010 poll indicated that 43 percent of Turkish people viewed the U.S. as its largest external threat, despite the presence of several potential threats, like Iran, along its own border.

Indicative of these sentiments, the Turkish Parliament declined to allow U.S. troops into Iraq through Turkey’s border in 2003. In 2010, a bill proposed in the U.S. House sought to label the actions of the Ottoman Empire against Armenians during the early 1900s as genocide caused Turkey to recall its ambassador for one month. That same year, Turkey and Brazil’s attempt to facilitate Iranian nuclear diplomacy was prevented by the U.S.

More recently, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly opposed NATO involvement in Libya and sought to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power, rather than a military operation. But with the passage of the U.N. resolution to intervene in Libya, Turkey played a major role in deliberations with the U.S. and other allies, and has allowed NATO use of military bases and is providing humanitarian assistance to the Libyan opposition.

Turkey continues to purchase military equipment like drone aircrafts, helicopters and missile defense systems from the U.S., but it has also started arms trade or military exercises with countries like China, Russia, Syria, Pakistan and South Korea. The change not only indicates Turkey’s growing desire to find different weapon providers, but to also decrease U.S. dependence.

Turkey’s cooperation is vital for U.S. military operations in the Middle East. The U.S. sends 68 percent of logistical support for Iraq and Afghanistan through the air base at Incirlik. The U.S. has also relied heavily on Habur Gate, the only land crossing into northern Iraq, to transport fuel, supplies and construction materials.

“The prospect of temporary or permanent denial of U.S. military access to Turkish bases and transport corridors concerns Congress and other policymakers. A loss of U.S. access to Incirlik air base and the closure of the Habur Gate and Mersin port could cause delays and increase costs for the transport of cargo to Afghanistan through alternate routes,” the CRS report said.

FAST FACT: Since 1948, the United States has provided Turkey with approximately $13.8 billion in overall military assistance.

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