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Incirlik provides important NATO capability

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey, (AFNS) -- Readiness is the main mission for Airmen stationed at this sprawling air base in southern Turkey, according to Col. Craig Wills, the commander of the 39th Air Base Wing here.

This Turkish base has served as an asset to NATO and will celebrate 60 years of existence in 2015. It has hosted many different missions.

During the Cold War, Incirlik was a bulwark against the Soviet Union. It was a key segment of the air bridge delivering aid to humanitarian crises in Turkey, Pakistan, the Middle East and Central Asia. The base also served as the headquarters for Operation Northern Watch -- the no-fly zone over northern Iraq that ended in 2003.

Today, the base’s mission may change again, and Airmen here must be ready, Wills said.

“My main mission is combat readiness,” the colonel said. “We play a big role in maintaining NATO’s capability because everyone knows they are here. Our job is to make sure capabilities are ready to fly.”

The civil war in neighboring Syria has affected Turkey. United Nations officials estimate some 1.3 million Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey seeking safety. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terror group operates in Syria and Iraq, and the Assad regime in Syria has launched missiles near its border with Turkey.

In response to this threat, Turkey asked its NATO allies for help. U.S., German and Dutch Patriot missile batteries are now based in a number of places in southern Turkey. A Spanish battery soon will join the effort. Incirlik Airmen provide some of the support for this air defense mission.

The base also supports joint U.S.-Turkish intelligence cooperation in support of coalition efforts against ISIL and Turkey's security and stability in the region.

“There are activities that we are already undertaking jointly from Incirlik, concerning Iraq,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently told the Milliyet newspaper.

These activities are fully coordinated with Turkey and support joint military requirements in the region, a defense official said.

Wills said he does not know what the future will bring for Incirlik Airmen.

“If you look at the history of this base, there have never been too many years where NATO or the Turks or the U.S. didn’t find it in their interests to use Incirlik,” he said. “And I would imagine the future will be a lot like the past -- it’s only a matter of time before the base plays an important role.

“That role could be military assistance, it could be building partnership capacity, it could be combat operations or it could be just support,” he continued. “We just have to be ready.”

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