Background Briefing

April 18, 1998
Senior Defense Official
April 18, 1998

Let me start off with a map, just to give you an idea of where we are. And I apologize, this wasn't the original purpose of the map. But Incirlik is just outside of Adana, Turkey, so it's down in the southern part as you see there. Notice that the distance when we fly out of Incirlik to go over to Iraq is about the same distance to Baghdad as from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. So those of you who have been to Saudi Arabia, it's about the same distance from right in here up to Baghdad. It's a long mission, they avoid Syria, but they come over here and then enter Northern Iraq. This is the northern no-fly zone, north of the 36th parallel, that we have there. This is the southern no -fly zone, from the 33rd parallel on down. So you will hear Operation Southern Watch which is what is done out of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and this is Operation Northern Watch up here, this part.

Incirlik is a Turkish air base. We have had U.S. forces there for a great number of years. As a matter of fact, a little historical thing, Francis Gary Powers was shot down in the U-2 flying out of Incirlik Air Base. So the old quonset hut that he flew out of is still there at Incirlik. That was, what, 1960, I guess, when he did that. Eisenhower was still president when he did that.

It has been used for many years as what's called a WTD—a weapons training detachment—for our airplanes in Europe. In Germany, where the weather's bad, we will periodically, over the years, put our airplanes down at Incirlik. They can go down, they can go to the gunnery range, they can fly down there, get good training, and go back to their home station in Europe.

We have been operating out of there since the Gulf War in a different mode. Most recently, there for a while was Operation Provide Comfort. You remember Provide Comfort? In December of '96 we changed the name to Operation Northern Watch at that time. It is a coalition operation—U.S. forces, Turkish forces and British forces. The UK has airplanes there, and pilots, so they operate as a coalition. We recently increased the size of our forces there, recently, last fall, remember Saddam started violating the no-fly zone in the North. We worked with our Turkish counterparts to increase the forces that we had at Incirlik so that we would start flying all during the daytime. We haven't had a violation of the northern no-fly zone since I think it was the ninth of November was the last time. So once we started flying there, that solved that problem. Recently, we have drawn down our forces to a more manageable level. We took some fighters and some tankers out of Incirlik…

Q: How many planes do we have there now, do you know exactly?

A: I think it's forty-two, it's in the mid-forties.

Q: How many fighters?

A: I would be guessing, I'm not sure exactly right now. I'm going to tell you something on the order of…no, it's less than that. It's less than 24. We have a lot of tankers there. We have an AWACS operation, everything has to be an AWACS control operation that we have out of there. We've got some helicopters in terms of search and rescue and all of that…so the number of fighters I believe is less than 20.

Q: But those 42 or 45 do not include helicopters?

A: I think that is fixed wing planes, but we'll get you the exact numbers when we're down there. But it's on that order of magnitude.

We have a lot of rotations. I don't know exactly who's there right now, but National Guard will come in. There will be a National Guard F-16 squadron, or a National Guard F-15 squadron, from time to time we'll do that, or from all over. When I was in Alaska, we had some Alaskan forces that were down there, as a matter of fact, pulling part of the time. We try to send our pilots in there for approximately 45 days because as they're flying their missions over Iraq they don't get to do the type of training that they need to do on a day to day basis in terms of dropping bombs and going out and doing a lot of air-to-air work because they've got live ordinance on board, you just don't train with live ordinance on board for safety reasons, so we try to rotate our crews through there. Any questions?

Q: How many sorties a day do we fly now?

A: It depends on any given day, but you may fly 40-some sorties a day.

Q: Since this is on background, have we got permission from the Turks, if we were to launch raids against Baghdad, since it's the same distance, have we permission from the Turks, or would we seek permission from the Turks, to use Incirlik to participate in such raids? I know we've said repeatedly that we have enough planes on the southern tier to handle it, but have we permission from the Turks to participate from the north?

A: Everything that we have ever asked from the Turks they have provided. I was over in November, I came over again in February when we were having consultations, and explained what the situation was. And we got assurances that we would have everything that we needed to operate.

Q: What is the purpose of Operation Northern Watch? You noted it started out as Provide Comfort to protect the Kurds? What's its stated purpose now?

A: Well, let me come back to this. If Saddam can't fly up here and can't fly down here, that really puts great constraints on his air force as far as their training. So one of the things you'd like to do is make sure he doesn't have the means to threaten his neighbors. So his air force has a very difficult time staying proficient if they can only fly in a very narrow band across the center part of the country. They can't operate with the army in the south, they can't operate with the army in the north. So it is a fairly significant constraint on his ability to train.

Q: So the purpose is constraining Saddam Hussein rather than protecting the Kurds in the north?

A: No, I didn't say that. You also have the ability to make sure he doesn't come up and bomb the Kurds in the north.

Q: Isn't it a bit ironic that at the same time Turkey is conducting cross-border raids into Iraq and killing Kurds?

A: Again, what Turkey is doing is conducting operations against the PKK which is, as we have designated them, a terrorist organization. So it's a different set of Kurds, if you will.

Q: So you don't see any irony with that?

A: I don't see an irony with that.

Q: Have the Turks indicated that they would renew this permission for using Incirlik for Northern Watch?

A: It comes up for renewal, I believe, in June or July. I can't remember the exact date--either the end of June or the first of July. The Turkish parliament has to do that. None of us like to speculate what legislative bodies are ever going to do in any country, but we have no reason to believe we will have any difficulty with it.

Q: How long would it be extended?

A: They normally do it in six month increments.

Q: You said that Turkey has always given you everything that you've asked for, and you mentioned when you had the buildup of forces, it was along with consultation with Turkey, but didn't they resist bringing in the numbers of planes that you wanted to bring in to Incirlik when you wanted to beef up the operation? Wasn't it an issue that had to be worked for some time?

A: No, I came over and talked with them, and explained what we needed to do; we were having the no fly zone violations; we needed some more fighters and some more tankers to do that. I talked to the Turkish general staff; they said they understood and within a couple of days, it was approved and we put the fighters in there.

Q: Thank you.