Incirlik Air Base is a Turkish air base of slightly more than 3320 ac (1335 ha), located in the İncirlik quarter of the city of Adana, Turkey. The base is within an urban area of 1.7 million people, 10 km (6 mi) east of the city core, and 32 km (20 mi) inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The United States Air Force and the Turkish Air Force are the primary users of the air base, although it is at times also used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force. Also, the base is the home of the 74th Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment (Patriot Unit) of the Spanish Army.
Incirlik Air Base is the home of the 10th Air Wing of the 2nd Air Force Command of the Turkish Air Force . Other wings of this command are located in Merzifon (LTAP), Malatya/Erhaç (LTAT) and Diyarbakır (LTCC).
Incirlik Air Base has a U.S. Air Force complement of about five thousand airmen, with several hundred airmen from the Royal Air Force and Turkish Air Force also present, as of late 2002. The primary unit stationed at Incirlik Air Base is the 39th Air Base Wing (39 ABW) of the U.S. Air Force. Incirlik Air Base has one 3,048 m (10,000 ft)-long runway, located among about 57 hardened aircraft shelters. Tactical nuclear weapons are stored at the base.
The decision to build the Incirlik Air Base was made during the Second Cairo Conference in December 1943, but construction only began after the end of the Second World War. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the work in the spring of 1951. The U.S. Air Force initially planned to use the base as an emergency staging and recovery site for medium and heavy bombers. The Turkish General Staff and the U.S. Air Force signed a joint-use agreement for the new Air Base in December 1954. On 21st February 1955, the Air Base was officially named Adana Air Base, with the 7216th Air Base Squadron as the host unit. This Air Base was renamed the “Incirlik Air Base” on 28th February 1958.
The early years of its existence proved the value of the presence of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, not only in countering the threat of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but also in responding to crises in the Middle East, such as in Lebanon and Israel. Project 119L, a public U.S. Air Force weather balloon launching program served as a cover story (misinformation) for the true objective of the Incirlik Air Base: to mount strategic reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union. Under the codename “GENETRIX”, these balloon launches were carried out beginning in February 1956.
Following initial weather balloon operations, pilots began flying American Lockheed U-2 aircraft reconnaissance missions as part of “Operation Overflight” by late 1957. These included nonstop flights back and forth between Incirlik and the NATO Air Base at the Norwegian town of Bodø starting in 1958. In addition, U.S. Air Force Boeing RB-47H Stratojets and U.S. Navy P4M-1Q Mercator and A3D-1Q Skywarrior reconnaissance flights operated from Incirlik into Soviet-claimed air space over the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and as far east as Afghanistan.
The Incirlik Air Base was the main U-2 flight base in this entire region beginning in 1956. This lasted until 1st May 1960, when a volley of about 14 Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles shot down the U-2 aircraft flown by the American CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers near Sverdlovsk, Russia, a test site in the Soviet Union’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program.
The Lebanon crisis of 1958 arose during the summer of 1958, prompting the President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States to order the U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command “Composite Air Strike Force Bravo” (several squadrons) to fly immediately from the United States to Incirlik. This Composite Air Strike Force consisted of F-100 Super Sabres, B-57 Canberras, RF-101 Voodoos, B-66 Destroyers, along with the supporting WB-66 weather planes. These aircraft and their supporting airmen overwhelmed the facilities of the Incirlik Air Base – which were also supporting air transport planes that carried a U.S. Army infantry battalion from Germany to Lebanon. In the event, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps were not involved in ground fighting. The U.S. Air Force warplanes flew non-combat missions to cover allied troop movements, to carry out a show-of-force flights over Lebanon, including over Beirut, aerial reconnaissance flights, and true news and propaganda leaflet drops on Lebanon.
As a part of an effort to bring units with combat experience into the region of Turkey, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) inactivated the 7216th Air Base Squadron, which had been promoted to an Air Base Group, and activated the 39th Tactical Group in its place at Incirlik on 1st April 1966. This Air Base Group assumed control of the permanent Air Force support units there, and it hosted the rotational Air Force squadrons that conducted training operations, and also maintained a NATO deterrent air force at the Incirlik Air Base.
After the Lebanon crisis, the Tactical Air Command deployed F-100 fighter squadrons on 100-day rotations to Incirlik from the United States. The flying mission at Incirlik further diversified in 1970 when the Turkish Air Force agreed to allow the U.S. Air Forces in Europe to use its air-to-ground missile testing range at 240 km northwest Konya, providing a suitable training area for the warplane squadrons deployed to Incirlik. These units also conducted training at Incirlik’s offshore air-to-air missile range over the Mediterranean Sea.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, except during the Cyprus dispute, many types of U.S. Air Force warplanes, including F-4 Phantom IIs, F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-111 Aardvarks, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, and the C-130 Hercules were based at Incirlik.
In mid-1975, the Turkish government announced that all U.S. military bases in Turkey would be closed and transferred to the Turkish Air Force. This action was in response to an arms embargo that the United States Congress imposed on Turkey for using American-supplied equipment during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Only Incirlik Air Base and İzmir Air Base remained open due to their NATO responsibilities, but all non-NATO activities at these locations were suspended.
After Congress lifted the embargo in September 1978, and also restored military and naval assistance to Turkey, normal operations resumed in Turkey, and the United States and Turkey signed the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA) on 29th March 1980. After signing the DECA, the USAFE initiated the “Turkey Catch-up Plan” to improve the quality-of-life of airmen stationed at Incirlik. One of the major projects was a completely new base housing complex for airmen and officers.
After Iraq’s 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, the 7440th Composite Wing (Provisional) assumed operational control of the 39th Tactical Group. The 7440th was the air component of Joint Task Force Proven Force, which eventually controlled 140 aircraft and opened a northern front, forcing Iraq to split its defenses between the north and the south, where the main thrust of coalition attacks originated as part of Operation “Desert Storm”. Following the war, Incirlik hosted “Combined Task Force Provide Comfort”, which oversaw Operation Provide Comfort (OPC), the effort to provide humanitarian relief to millions of Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq.
Between 1992 and 1997 Vickers VC10s from No. 101 Squadron RAF were based here for Operation Warden over Iraq. The 39th TACG was redesignated the 39th Wing on 1 October 1993 and restructured as a standard Air Force objective wing. The U.S. State Department’s “Operation Quick Transit” evacuated thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq late in 1996. The wing provided logistical support in Turkey to this operation, which signaled the end of the humanitarian aspect of Operation Provide Comfort (OPC). OPC ended 31st December 1996, and Operation Northern Watch (ONW) took its place 1st January 1997 with the task to enforce the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel in Iraq.
The 39th Air and Space Expeditionary Wing was activated at Incirlik AB on 15th September 1997, to support and command USAF assets deployed to Incirlik supporting ONW, while Incirlik’s tent city, Hodja Village, became the USAF’s largest such “temporary” facility.
From 1994, the Turkish Air Force began receiving KC-135R-CRAG Stratotanker aerial refueling tankers. The seven aircraft are operated by the 101st Squadron, stationed at Incirlik.
In response to the September 11th, 2001 attacks, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) began in October 2001. Incirlik served as a main hub for missions in support for the war in Afghanistan, including humanitarian airlift operations, MC-130 special operations missions, KC-135 refueling missions and sustainment operations for deployed forces. The aerial port managed a 6-fold increase in airflow during the height of OEF. When the main bases in Afghanistan (Bagram Airfield) and the Uzbekistan air base (Karshi-Khanabad Air Base) were in use the Incirlik’s airflow supporting OEF decreased to a baseline sustainment level.
ONW ended with the start of the Iraq War on March 19th, 2003. ONW flew its last patrol on 17th March 2003, and closed a successful 12-year mission to contain the Iraqi military and inactivated 1st May 2003. The 39th ASEW was also inactivated, effective 1st May 2003. The wing was completely inactivated on 16th July 2003 and the 39th Air Base Group was activated in its place.
On 19th August 2003, the first rotation of deployed KC-135 Stratotankers and airmen arrived at Incirlik to support various operations in response to the 11th September 2001 attacks as well as the post-invasion reconstruction of Iraq and the ensuing insurgency. On 6th January 2004, more than 300 U.S. Army soldiers of what would become thousands transited through Incirlik as the first stop back to their home post after spending almost a year in Iraq. Incirlik was part of what was described as the largest troop movement in U.S. history. Incirlik provided soldiers with a cot, warm location, entertainment and food for a few hours outside of a hostile war zone. On March 12th, 2004, the 39th Air Base Group inactivated and the 39th Air Base Wing activated to provide the best mix of required support and, as new mission requirements emerge, to shoulder the burden and better contribute in the global war on terrorism.
Incirlik played a bridge role by providing support in the relief operation started after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake on 8th October 2005. With the help of Turkish and American airmen, five C-130 Hercules cargo planes from Air Bases in Italy, Britain, Greece, and France flew urgently needed supplies including 10,000 tents from the warehouse of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in İskenderun, Turkey to Islamabad, Pakistan on 19th October.
During the brief War between Hezbollah and Israel in July 2006, the Incirlik Air Base provided solace to Americans who had been evacuated by U.S. Navy warships from Beirut, Lebanon to Mersin, Turkey.
In 2010, three Armenian Americans filed a lawsuit against the Republic of Turkey and two banks for compensation of 122 acres (0.49 km2) of land in the Adana region of Turkey, where Incirlik Air Base currently stands. An American court accepted the case and granted Turkey 21 days to respond to the lawsuit. The defendant banks in Turkey requested from the court to extend the deadline for a response until September 2011. The court accepted the extension and the case is still ongoing.
On 13th October 2014, it was rumored that the Turkish government approved the use of Incirlik Air base to support operations against the Islamic State but this was later denied. On 23rd July 2015, it was confirmed that the Turkish Government would begin allowing USAF UAVs and USAF combat planes to fly combat sorties against ISIL in neighboring Syria out of Incirlik Air base. Ankara formally signed a deal July 29th, 2015 with the United States over the use of Turkey’s Incirlik air base in the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign against the Islamic State, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, Hurriyet reported. The agreement covers only the fight against the Islamic State and does not include air support for allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, a spokesman for the ministry said.
On 25th April 2016, the German Federal Armed Forces announced they would commit 65 million Euro to establish a permanent presence at Incirlik, as part of Germany’s commitment to the fight against ISIL. Funds will support the permanent basing of six Panavia Tornado and one Airbus A310 MRTT within six months. These will be supported by 200 troops. Separate command post (34 million Euro) and housing and recreational facilities (10 million and 4,5 million Euro respectively) will be built by the end of 2017. As of May 2017, due to diplomatic disagreements between Germany and Turkey, the German government is considering pulling German forces out of the base.
As a result of the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt and several Turkish Tanker Aircraft fuelling rogue Turkish F-16’s, external electrical power to the base was disconnected. A Turkish no fly order was also put into effect for US military aircraft in the area. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook at the time stated that “U.S. facilities at Incirlik are operating on internal power sources.” EUCOM spokesman Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez said: “All our assets in Turkey are fully under control and there was no attempt to challenge that status.” “There was no chaos at this base,”. The security level at base did however move to DELTA, the highest level, U.S. personnel are ordered restricted to base, and locals were denied access. By 17th of July commercial electrical power remained disconnected but permission from Turkey to conduct US anti-ISIS air operations from Incirlik resumed, the Turkish base commander, General Bekir Ercan Van, was arrested by Turkish forces loyal to sitting president Erdoğan. General Van sought asylum from the United States but was denied. Due to increasing risks some suggest moving NATO’s nuclear weapons out of Turkey.
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