A great piece, from Tracy Wilkinson and W.J. Hennigan, at the Los Angeles Times, "Straddling East and West, Turkey is a critical U.S. ally in fight against Islamic State":
The sprawling nation of Turkey is one of the United States’ most important and critically strategic allies, straddling the divide between the Middle East and the West.Still more.
As the only majority-Muslim member of NATO, Turkey has lent its soil to U.S. air bases, supported American military operations in key conflicts — such as Syria today and the Balkans in the 1990s — and served, until recent years, as a rare friendly interlocutor between Muslim nations and Israel.
But Turkey has also been a complicated and prickly ally, and more so as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deepened his autocratic hold on power.
Turkey’s stability and the friendliness of its military toward the West are also of vital importance to the U.S. and for countries throughout Europe.
Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1952, and U.S. warplanes have used Incirlik Air Base in the south during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
An estimated 1,800 U.S. military personnel are assigned to the base and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the capital.
Security at Incirlik is of critical importance for the U.S. military because there is a stockpile of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at the base.
The B61 thermonuclear weapon is the last of its kind, the only tactical nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal. Unlike strategic weapons, designed to destroy cities and hardened military targets, the tactical weapons are intended for use on a battlefield, delivered by aircraft at treetop level or from high altitudes.
The exact number of B61 bombs at Incirlik is classified, but arms control analysts estimate there are about 50 deployed there.
With the second largest army in NATO, Erdogan was initially hesitant to take part in the U.S-led effort against Islamic State militants in Syria. For Erdogan, the greater goal was ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Erdogan was accused in some U.S. circles of turning a blind eye toward the threat of Islamic State.
However, after a series of high-profile suicide attacks in Turkish cities, Erdogan agreed a year ago to allow U.S. warplanes to fly combat sorties from Incirlik.
Since then, the intensity of the U.S.-led air war in Syria increased sharply because the flight time into Syria was drastically reduced compared with using other, more distant U.S. bases. The Pentagon in March ordered military family members to leave Incirlik due to the rising risk of possible terror attacks against Americans at the base.
Turkey has also begun to clamp down on smuggling routes along its 500-mile border with Syria that Islamic State militants use to move fighters, money and weapons -- especially along a porous 60-mile stretch known as the Manbij Pocket.
Thousands of foreign fighters have slipped across the border amid the maze of supply lines that go through Turkey to join the various militant factions in the multi-sided Syrian war.
The U.S.-led coalition, with Turkey's help, is in the midst of a massive, months-long operation to close the Manbij Pocket. Since the operation began, coalition warplanes have launched about 400 airstrikes to support ground forces known as the Syrian Arab Coalition to push the last remaining Islamic State fighters from the area...