Turkey, US at odds again over Ankara’s ouster from F-35 program

A Dutch Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet takes off at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2019

Turkey, US at odds again over Ankara’s ouster from F-35 program

  • ‘F-35 fighter jet program cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform’

ANKARA: The US announced it was formally removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program on Wednesday, following the delivery of the first part of a Russian S-400 missile defense system to Ankara. 

“F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that the removal would be completed by March 2020. 

Ankara, which has been cultivating closer ties with Moscow on defense procurement, had invested in the F-35 program, with Turkish defense companies producing 937 parts of the plane, and 100 of the jets expected to be bought by the Turkish military.

To fill the vacuum created by Turkey’s removal from the program, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced that Russia was ready to sell combat aircraft to Ankara. 

Dr. Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy, an Istanbul-based think tank, said the F-35 and the S-400 were mutually exclusive defense acquisitions, not only technically but also politically, and that this had been a very well-known fact for a long time. 

“Militarily, it means that Turkey is cut off from a state-of-the-art fifth generation combat aircraft project that fits perfectly for network-centric warfare and gaining information superiority in the complex battle spaces of the 21st century,” he told Arab News.

“Although many in Turkey talk about ‘alternatives’ like the Russian Su-57, for now, there is no tangible ground for any co-production or tech-transfer ventures. Besides, the F-35 is an information-superiority asset and a situational awareness node. The Russian military aviation prioritizes very different features such as super-maneuverability and kinematic edge. These are completely distinct design philosophies.”

There are now questions over whether or not Washington will bring Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA ) sanctions against Turkey over its decision to purchase the Russian missile system.

“One should grasp the content of the CAATSA sanctions spectrum. There are some harmless articles such as cutting off the sanctioned entities from US export-import loans. Yet, if the US opted for following the Chinese precedent, namely sanctioning Turkey’s main procurement body, then Turkey could face hard times in its defense transactions,” Kasapoglu said. 

US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense David J. Trachtenberg told reporters at the Pentagon: “The US greatly values our strategic relationship with Turkey — that remains unchanged.

“As long-standing NATO allies, our relationship is multilayered and extends well beyond the F-35 partnership. We will continue our extensive cooperation with Turkey across the entire spectrum of our relationship.”

However, for Kasapoglu, it is a lose-lose situation for Turkish-US ties, while the ultimate geopolitical victor is Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“He knows what he is doing, and there is no match for the Kremlin’s strategic calculus in the West. It is another unfortunate cold fact for the transatlantic strategic community. The S-400 has managed to do this without firing one single interceptor,” he said. 

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, thinks the negative repercussions of the S-400 have only just started and that the US-Turkish relationship may worsen. 

“Even with the F-35, CAATSA looms, and it is almost certain sanctions will be implemented,” he told Arab News. 

“Turkey has lost the aircraft it intended to build its future air force around. There is no real way Ankara can address this issue, other than to try and finish building its own fighter, a tremendously expensive endeavor dependent on foreign engines, or purchase aircraft from Moscow.”

In a press release the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “This unilateral step contradicts the spirit of alliance and does not rely on any legitimate justification,” and criticized Washington for leaving unanswered its proposal to form a working group on the issue.


US troops at Syria base say they’ll keep pressure on Daesh

Updated 12 November 2019

US troops at Syria base say they’ll keep pressure on Daesh

A BASE IN EASTERN SYRIA: At a base in eastern Syria, a senior US coalition commander said Monday that American troops who remain in Syria are redeploying to bases, including in some new locations, and working with the Kurdish-led forces to keep up the pressure on the Daesh militants and prevent the extremists from resurging or breaking out of prisons.
The commander, Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric T. Hill, said even though Bradley armored vehicles have arrived in eastern Syria, the mission’s focus has not changed. He said the “force mix,” including the mechanized armored vehicles deployed in Syria for the first time since the war against Daesh, has an array of capabilities to deny Daesh the chance to regroup.
“The mission still continues. And Daesh is trying to resurge wherever they can,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the group. He said the forces have captured 700 IS fighters since its last territorial holding fell in March. “We’ve destroyed many and war remnants and we continue to do so as we find them.”
Speaking at a remote base in Syria where the Bradleys arrived last week, he said “our primary way that we do that” is through working with the US partners, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The deployment of the mechanized force comes after US troops pulled out from northeastern Syria, making way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters that began last month. Only several miles away from the base, fighting between Turkish-allied fighters and the SDF was ongoing, despite a cease-fire that has so far curbed the Turkish invasion but didn’t end the violence.
Smoke billowed in the distance, visible from across a major highway that has become a de-facto frontier between Turkish-held areas and areas where US troops are going to operate. An SDF official on the scene said Turkish shelling was continuing.
Further north, three car bombs went off Monday in the town of Qamishli, killing at least six people while a priest was shot dead. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack that killed the Armenian Catholic priest and his father as they drove from Qamishli to the city of Hassakeh, in a sign that the extremists still have reach.
The US withdrawal from northern Syria was widely criticized, even by allies of President Donald Trump. The Kurdish-led force, deserted by Washington in the face of the threat of a military operation by NATO ally, leaned on the Syrian government and Russia for help. The cease-fire reached in late October left Turkey in control of a stretch of land along the border that is roughly 120 kilometers (70 miles) wide and 30 kilometers (20 miles) deep. But fighting south of that zone continued. Kurdish officials say Turkey is seeking to expand its area of control.
Hill’s stress on the continued partnership with the Kurdish-led forces comes as US troops sent reinforcements to bases in the oil-rich region of eastern Syria.
Trump approved an expanded military mission which he said was to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria. The directive raised questions about how the troops will operate, particularly in an area where there are Russian-backed Syrian troops, who may try to take back oil facilities.
The decision was a partial win for those who were against the withdrawal from Syria. Pentagon officials said as many as 800 may stay in Syria, down from about 1,200 and including about 200 in a southern garrison.
Hill said while some troops are going home or withdrawing to Iraq, others are redeploying to Qamishli area, Deir Ezzor and Derik, an area where no US bases were before.
In a day visit to some of the bases where reinforcements were sent, Associated Press journalists spoke to some of the troops, many of them newly arrived. The military required that the names and exact locations of the bases not be identified.
First Lt. Jacob Moore said a group of his Bradley armored vehicles were asked to provide security for a US convoy passing through the fighting area, Tal Tamr, setting up a security blockade to allow the forces to pass.
“We were prepared for the worst,” said Moore, who arrived last week in Syria, “but we got the best. There was no fighting when we got there,” Instead, he said, locals were happy to see the new deployment.
In the crowded terrain, US officials say de-conflicting with Russia and Turkey is essential to avoid any friction.
But the reality created on the ground by US withdrawal and the Turkish invasion has made for a tense and at times, surreal terrain, where Russia, Turkish troops patrol together, while Syrian government forces clash with Turkey-backed allies despite a cease-fire brokered by Moscow, a main ally of Damascus. An earlier cease-fire negotiated between Washington and Ankara ensured that the two NATO allies don’t come into confrontation. But it left the Kurdish forces, which were in control of 30 percent of Syria’s territory, pushed away from the borders and reliant on a new political agreement that would protect a five-year experiment in self-administration.
If the US insists its mission is still fighting Daesh, for the Kurds their priority has now shifted. It is time for the alliance with the US to bear political fruit, said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, who was present at one of the bases.
He said keeping the oil in the hands of his forces was a good card for political negotiations.
“Here in northeast Syria, we are part of the total picture that is dealing with a crisis and requires finding a track for a political resolution,” Bali said. “The presence of the US forces, a military weight, will have a positive role in finding a political way out.”
Pentagon officials have stressed that securing oil facilities was a way to ensure that the Kurdish fighters maintain control of an important source of revenue.
One of the bases visited by journalists Monday was close to oil fields, but there was no way of telling if there was an increase of security around the facilities. While one base was provided with the Bradley vehicles, Apache helicopters had moved in to another, apparently from a base dismantled further north.
US officials say the enhanced presence of Apaches and artillery are a deterrent to any hostile forces in the area.
Adding to the complicated terrain in Syria, Deir Ezzor province is divided between the Kurdish-led forces on one side of the Euphrates River and the Syrian government and their Iranian-backed militias on the other. In February 2018, US forces responded firmly to an attempted advance on Kurdish-held areas by Syrian troops, at the time backed by Russian contractors.
At the base, soldiers said the troop presence also secures other infrastructure, such as water facilities and major highways.
Hill said the continued US presence is also to assist and train Kurdish-led forces, including in securing prisons where over 10,000 Daesh militants are held. The US does not guard the facilities but helps the Kurdish forces do so.
“One of the missions that we will continue to support with the Syrian Democratic Forces is to contain the prisons and make sure that all the prisoners that are under SDF control remain in those prisons and secure,” he said.