US Nuclear Weapons at Incirlik Safe, Trump Says

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A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle lands on the runway Nov. 12, 2015, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Taylor Worley)
A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle lands on the runway Nov. 12, 2015, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Taylor Worley)

President Donald Trump says he is "confident" that U.S. nuclear weapons stored at Incirlik airbase in Turkey will remain secure, despite chaos caused by Turkey's invasion of Syria.

Incirlik is shared by the 39th Air Base Wing of the U.S. Air Force under a long-standing agreement.

"We have a great air base there, a powerful air base," Trump said of Incirlik, about 60 miles from the Syrian border. There should be little concern about the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in a NATO member's country, he added.

He also said it was highly unlikely that the presence of the weapons would lead to a confrontation with Turkey.

"Do people want us to start shooting at a NATO member? That would be a first," Trump said.

Related: Fearing US Abandonment, Kurds Kept Back Channels Wide Open

Trump was responding on Wednesday to a question based on a report from the New York Times that the U.S. was planning on the possible removal of the nukes from Incirlik. The air base has been used by the U.S. to strike at ISIS targets in Syria.

In his response, Trump appeared to break with the long-standing Defense and State Departments policy not to comment on the presence of nuclear weapons in the territory of NATO members.

However, the presence of the weapons -- at Incirlik, believed to be Cold War-era B-61 gravity bombs -- has long been an open secret, and acknowledgement of their existence has occasionally leaked into official U.S. and European reports.

A March 2014 Pentagon budget request included a reference to an $80 million investment "in infrastructure improvements required to store nuclear weapons within secure facilities in storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey."

Trump's remarks came in the course of lengthy statements on the crisis in Syria and other issues during an Oval Office meeting with visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella, and in a later joint news conference.

Trump denied that he had "greenlighted" Turkey's invasion of Syria in a phone call earlier this month with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He again stated his intention to have all of the estimated 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria withdrawn from the country.

Without being specific, Trump said the U.S. troops still in Syria were in a safe region and would soon be in more secure areas.

Trump also dismissed concerns that the U.S. was abandoning the mostly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, which have partnered with the U.S. in the long campaign to defeat ISIS.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the SDF lost more than 11,000 killed and 23,000 wounded in fighting alongside U.S. troops against ISIS.

"I say this with respect -- they're no angels," Trump said of the Kurdish fighters. "They fought with us, but we paid a lot to make them fight with us, and that's okay."

"The Kurds are very well protected -- they know how to fight -- and by the way, they are no angels," Trump said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Read more: Army Secretary Says It's OK for Soldiers to Sound Off on Syria Withdrawal

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