The Pentatgon has rebutted reports the United States is so unhappy with Turkey that American forces at Incirlik Air Base would be moved to Crete with Greece unhappy over constant provocations from Turkey.
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, had suggested an American buildup on Crete with America and Greece already in a military cooperation pact and the US looking to build up its military presence in the country.
But Turkey's purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems that could undermine NATO – the defense alliance to which the US, Greece and Turkey belong – and Turkish moves to drill for energy off Greek islands as it's doing off Cyprus has rattled Washington's cage.
Still, US President Donald Trump said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a friend and a “hell of a leader,” and reportedly has done favors for him, causing confusion which way the US would tilt in a conflict between Greece and Turkey.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency the U.S. "has no plans to end our presence at Incirlik Air Base" after Johnson told the Washington Examiner newspaper that the US is building up its presence at a naval base in Crete as an alternative.
"The U.S. has operated at Incirlik Air Base for decades at the invitation of the Turkish government, and our continued presence there demonstrates the ongoing and strong relationship between the United States and our NATO Ally Turkey,” Campbell said by email.
Johnson, a key Trump ally who heads the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview that U.S. officials are ramping up efforts to leave Incirlik over a range of issues.
Johnson told the Examiner the U.S. wants "to maintain our full presence and cooperation in Turkey” but said the tensions are prompting officials to expedite a withdrawal after Turkey was barred from buying US-made F-35's over the S-400 defense system purchase.
“I don’t think we want to make that strategic shift, but I think, from a defensive posture, I think we have to look at the reality of the situation,” he said. "We're already looking at Greece as an alternative.”
“It's very unfortunate the path that Erdogan is taking Turkey, or has put Turkey on,” Johnson said.
“It's very concerning, which is one of the reasons we certainly are increasing and improving our military cooperation with Greece…beefing up our presence in Souda Bay, because our presence, quite honestly, in Turkey is certainly threatened.”