Dozens of US nuclear weapons stored at a Turkish air base near Syria are at risk of being captured by “terrorists or other hostile forces,” a Washington think tank claimed Monday.
Critics have long been alarmed by America’s estimated stockpile of about 50 nuclear bombs at Incirlik in southern Turkey, just 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the border with war-torn Syria.
The issue took on fresh urgency last month following the attempted coup in Turkey, in which the base’s Turkish commander was arrested on suspicion of complicity in the plot.
“Whether the US could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question,” said Monday’s report from the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank working to promote peace.
Incirlik is a vital base for the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, with the strategically located facility affording drones and warplanes fast access to IS targets.
But the Pentagon in March ordered families of US troops and civilian personnel stationed in southern Turkey to quit the region due to security fears.
“From a security point of view, it’s a roll of the dice to continue to have approximately 50 of America’s nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” report co-author Laicie Heeley said.
“There are significant safeguards in place. … But safeguards are just that, they don’t eliminate risk. In the event of a coup, we can’t say for certain that we would have been able to maintain control,” she told AFP.