Friday, July 15, 2016

America's Military Connection to Turkey

Chaos in Turkey 2016

The failed coup which roiled Turkey comes at a time of heightened fear due to terrorism and the prolonged agony of the Syrian Civil War.  The worst refugee crisis since World War II has had a devastating impact on Turkey in addition to the Middle East and Europe.

Americans and particularly our military have played a surprisingly large role in Turkish history for many years.  This is the Turkey chapter of our book America Invades...

"Turkey’s ancient capital, Istanbul, was once Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium and the Eastern Roman Empire. Digging deeper into its past, Heinrich Schliemann found the ancient ruins of Troy in Turkey in the nineteenth century.

A Turkish-American trade treaty was signed in 1830. And Americans helped start the process of modernizing the Turkish navy, operating the Imperial Naval Arsenal on the Haliç. Two Americans, Charles Ross and Forster Rhodes, served as naval advisors to the sultan.

In 1849, the USN intervened in Smyrna (now Izmir) when an American was detained there. And in 1856, the navy returned to Smyrna for what has to be one of the navy’s more unusual missions. Jefferson Davis wanted to form an experimental United States Army Camel Corps for service in territory recently acquired from Mexico. So the USS Supply was sent to Smyrna to get camels. And get camels it did and took them to Indianola, Texas.

In the later nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was described, perhaps by Tsar Nicholas I, as being “the sick man of Europe.” Their once vast empire seemed to many observers to be in a protracted period of disintegration and decline.

In 1912, the First Balkan War broke out, which removed from Ottoman control most of what remained of its territory in Europe. And towards the end of that year, American troops were put on duty guarding the American legation in Istanbul.

Admiral Bucknam
Turkey's American Admiral
Meanwhile, one North America deeply involved in the Balkan Wars was Rear Admiral Bucknam who continued the tradition of American links with the Ottoman Navy by heading it. Ransford D. Bucknam was born in Canada but had been working in America and, according to some sources, became an American citizen. He had arrived from Philadelphia on board a gunboat built for the Turks and stayed on to captain it for them. During the First Balkan War, he engineered a sortie through the Dardanelles by a Turkish cruiser, which sank a number of Greek ships and shelled coastal fortifications. He died in 1915.

In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was allied to the Central Powers. The United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson, declared war on the Ottoman Empire in April 1917, shortly after our declaration against Germany. US forces were not deployed against Turkey, although the American reporter Lowell Thomas launched his career by promoting Lawrence of Arabia’s campaign against the Turks in the Middle East.

American marines landed in Turkey shortly after the war. In 1919, during the Greek occupation of the city, marines from the USS Arizona were sent to guard the US consulate in Istanbul. And again in 1922, troops were landed in Smyrna (Izmir) to protect US citizens and property there.
Actually, we could have ended up running part of Turkey after World War I because there was discussion among the Allies about forming an American mandate in the area.
Kemal Atatürk
In 1923, Kemal Atatürk became the first president of the Republic of Turkey. He is widely regarded as the founder of the modern secular Turkish state.

Turkey remained neutral during most of World War II, and consequently, Istanbul became a hotbed of espionage intrigue. The OSS maintained an important base in neutral Istanbul during the Second World War as Axis and Allied espionage and diplomatic services all plotted to bring Turkey over to their side in the war. The question of chrome shipments to Germany was also vital with Germany wanting them to continue and the Allies keen to stopping them. In the end, Turkey joined the Allied side in February 1945 and became a founding member of the United Nations.

The Turkish ambassador to the United States, Mehmet Munir Ertegun, died suddenly in Washington, DC, near the war’s end. A naval task force built around the USS Missouri was charged with returning the ashes of the ambassador to his home country. US authorities wished to send a message to Stalin to deter any aggressive moves against Turkey. The battleship was received with great pomp and circumstance by the Turks.

Mutual fear of the Soviet Union brought Turkey and the United States into a close partnership after the war, and that was reflected in extensive military links that have remained, with occasional hiccups, to the present. What follows will, therefore, be only a summary of some of the key elements in those links.

During the Korean War, a Turkish brigade served on the peninsula alongside American forces.
Turkey joined the NATO alliance in 1952 at the same time as Greece. And a formal defense treaty with us followed in 1959.

The Jupiter missiles, which may have been Khrushchev’s strategic target in the first place, were removed from Turkey after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The US military has made use of a range of facilities in Turkey. The most important is Incirlik Air Base, first used by the United States in 1951. It has long been a major US base and remains the home of the USAF 39th Air Wing with about five thousand personnel. It was a key base for operations during the crisis in Lebanon to the south of Turkey in 1958 (see “Lebanon”). The USN has made use of the major Turkish naval base at Aksaz. Turkey is also home to some key NATO headquarters.
Links between Turkey and the United States were strained in the 1970s due to the conflict in Cyprus and subsequent arms boycotts authorized by the US Congress but gradually recovered.

During the Gulf War, sorties were flown from Incirlik into Iraq. After the Gulf War, the base played a central role in efforts to help the Kurds in northern Iraq and in enforcing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. In 2001, it again played a crucial role in facilitating air operations in Afghanistan. And 2001 was a big year for Incirlik in another sense. After Ocean’s Eleven’s premiere in Los Angeles, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts, with director Steven Soderbergh visited the base.

In 2003, the Turkish parliament, with grave concerns over the future of the Kurds, denied use of Turkish territory for the Allied campaign against Saddam’s Iraq. Links between the United States and Turkey experienced something of a brief chill.

A battery of Patriot missiles is currently deployed in Turkey to defend against possible attacks from Syria, and Turkey and the United States have cooperated to help the Syrian opposition in its attempts to force Assad out of power in Syria. A flood of refugees has streamed across the border into Turkey fleeing the Syrian civil war.

Turkish troops have served in Afghanistan. Turkey has received billions of dollars of military aid from the United States, and its military has made use of a lot of American-designed equipment. Turkish forces regularly take part in military exercises alongside US personnel."

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