U.S. Military Shuts Last Mission in Turkey

The United States shut its last major Turkish military mission Thursday as part of a regional shuffle of bases that is raising questions about Turkey's strategic importance to Washington.

The U.S. government also said this week that it would leave bases in Saudi Arabia, where the presence of American forces had long been a source of anti-American sentiment.

U.S. officials said the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime ended the need for Turkish-based air missions to monitor a no-fly zone over northern Iraq or for Saudi bases to mount flights over a no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

At a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. mission here, Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, noted that Washington also is reviewing the positioning of troops in Europe and denied that leaving Incirlik indicated trouble in relations with Turkey.

"After 12 years of very successful coalition operations ... we were able to contain a regime that was despicable and dangerous both for the people of Iraq and the surrounding region," Wald said.

But analysts say the withdrawal reflects underlying trouble in U.S.-Turkey relations following the failure to agree on the Iraq war. Turks overwhelmingly opposed the war, saying it would destabilize the economy and the region.

The Turkish government refused to allow U.S. ground troops to attack northern Iraq from Turkey or to use Incirlik (search) for air raids on Iraq, leading U.S. commanders to rework their plans and to rely on other bases in the region.

"The fact that the U.S. is decreasing its military presence in Turkey means that the U.S. now feels like it will not need Turkey strategically in the future," said Ilnur Cevik, editor-in-chief of the Turkish Daily News.

Still, many analysts say that as NATO's only Muslim member, Turkey will likely remain an important ally for Washington. Turkey borders Iraq as well as Iran and Syria, two other countries accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism.

"The relations have been hurt, but they have not ended. They are not at a point where they cannot be mended," said Ilter Turan, a political analyst at Istanbul's Bilgi University.

The United States has withdrawn 50 jets and refueling planes and 1,400 personnel from Incirlik. Another 1,400 U.S. personnel serving in a NATO (search) mission will remain at the base.

"Right now, there is no decision to leave the base totally," Wald said.