The top US military commander in Europe told Congress today that Turkey remains a key ally despite the Donald Trump administration’s decision to boot the NATO partner from the F-35 program after it took delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system last summer.
The exchange: Pressed by Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott in a posture hearing Tuesday, the dual-hatted NATO supreme allied commander and US European Command chief Gen. Tod Wolters said that “Turkey remains a very reliable ally” more than seven months after receiving its first S-400 batteries.
Impacts: But as the Pentagon winds down Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program over long-held fears that the Russian system could wind up reducing the American fighter’s ability to evade detection in combat, Ankara will not be directly participating in a massive military exercise in Europe.
“They are on the periphery,” Wolters said, confirming that Turkey would hold observer status for the drill that will include nearly 40,000 allied troops in a defensive scenario on the Suwalki Gap between Poland and Lithuania.
Meanwhile, in Syria: Ongoing fighting in Idlib province, where Turkish-backed fighters are clashing with troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has driven the tepid US-Turkish alliance closer together. “As President Trump said on Tuesday [Feb. 18], we are working together with Turkey on seeing what we can do,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today, declining to provide specifics. Turkey has asked the United States for Patriot missile batteries to defend its border, Al-Monitor has confirmed.
What’s next: Wheels up for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is set to huddle next week with his French, German and Russian counterparts to talk over the brewing chaos in Idlib.
Know more: Read Pentagon correspondent Jack Detsch’s latest on talks between the United States and Turkey over possible missile defense support in Idlib.