A B-2 drops a B61 Joint Test Assembly on Aug 24, 2015. Air Force Global Strike Command photo.
President Donald Trump on Oct. 16 said the US is “confident” in the safety of B61 nuclear weapons based at Incirlik AB, Turkey, as Ankara’s close relationship with the US falters and the Turks target previously American-backed Kurdish forces inside Syria.
“We’re confident,” Trump said in the Oval Office, when asked about the safety of the weapons at Incirlik. “We have a great air base there, a very powerful air base there. We’re supposed to get along with our NATO members.”
Trump’s comments mark the first time a US president or other senior official has publicly confirmed that the nuclear bombs are stored at the base.
It has long been an open secret that US and Turkey’s joint installation holds B61s, though USAF and Pentagon officials shy away from discussing it on the record. For example, former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, when asked about the weapons’ presence in 2016, said the military doesn’t “comment on the placement of certain weapons.”
“I do want to tell you, though, obviously we are a nuclear power, we do have nuclear weapons, and those nuclear weapons are safe and secure,” she said.
B61s are free-falling weapons currently undergoing upgrades that will add the ability to hit targets using a guidance system. In the future, they are expected to fly on a range of Air Force fighter and bomber aircraft.
In response to Turkey’s recent military actions, calls to move and secure the weapons have started surfacing. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in an Oct. 15 statement called on Trump to order their removal from Turkey and urged further diplomacy in the region.
“While Russia’s nuclear threat continues, our nuclear weapons deployment must reflect today’s evolving security environment,” Markey wrote. “We have removed nuclear weapons from allied countries like Germany and South Korea before, and we must now act prudently once again, ignoring [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s attempts to intimidate us by inflating the value of destructive nuclear arms.”
Bipartisan lawmakers also look to increase pressure on Turkey, with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) set to introduce a measure Oct. 17 to sanction the country for their attacks on the Syrian Kurds. The framework of the measure calls for sanctions on senior Turkish political leaders and on military transactions with the country, and prohibits US military assistance for the Turkish Armed Forces, among other steps.