Turkish F-16s kept in Azerbaijan 'as deterrent against Armenian attacks'
Turkey has kept a number of F-16 warplanes in Azerbaijan following a joint exercise in July as a deterrent against Armenian attacks, sources familiar with the issue told Middle East Eye.
“The F-16s have been there as a deterrent against any Armenian attacks on civilian populations and military installations within Azerbaijan,” one of the sources said.
Last week, Armenia’s defence ministry claimed that an F-16 bomber had downed an Armenian SU-25 fighter jet. Ankara has denied any involvement.
“The jets haven’t participated in Azerbaijani operations in the Karabakh region nor they have shot down an Armenian jet as Yerevan claimed,” said the source.
'The jets haven’t participated in Azerbaijani operations in the Karabakh region nor they have shot down an Armenian jet as Yerevan claimed'
- Turkish source
The revelation came as the New York Times Visual Investigations team reported on Wednesday that there were at least two F-16s deployed in Ganja International Airport, serving Azerbaijan's second largest city, on 3 October.
For 10 days, Armenian forces and Turkey-backed Azerbaijan have been locked in ferocious clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Scores have been killed on both sides.
The disputed mountainous area has been held by Armenian forces for three decades, despite four UN Security Council resolutions urging them to withdraw.
The source said the Turkish F-16s have been moved out of the airport after an Armenian rocket attack against Ganja on 4 October. “Unfortunately the presence F-16s didn’t stop the Armenians,” the source said, noting that shelling on Ganja have led to a number of civilian casualties.
The Armenian government in Yerevan denied that it was involved in the attack on Azerbaijan. The Armenian administration controlling Nagorno-Karabakh claimed it had destroyed Ganja International Airport, something denied by Azerbaijan.
Close allies Turkey and Azerbaijan have conducted joint military drills for years, and most recently in August, where Turkish officers shared the experience and expertise they have developed in the Syrian and Libya conflicts.
Ankara and Baku carried out a joint air drill on 31 July after brief clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh earlier that month. The F-16s in Azerbaijan were brought into the country then.
Some in Ankara have speculated that Turkey left some of its military staff in Azerbaijan to continue to bolster Baku’s military. Azerbaijan acknowledged for the first time earlier this week that it has been using Turkish armed drones against Armenian targets.
“Thanks to advanced Turkish drones owned by the Azerbaijan military, our casualties on the front shrunk,” said Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev in a televised interview on Monday with the Turkish news channel TRT Haber. "These drones show Turkey’s strength. It also empowers us.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly stressed that his country is ready to provide every means of support to Baku to seize the disputed area, which under international law is a territory of Azerbaijan.
The Turkish leadership has often insisted that no ceasefire is possible in Nagorno-Karabakh until Armenian forces withdraw.