19 February 2023

Blinken tours Turkey’s earthquake zone and pledges 100m dollars in aid

19 February 2023

US secretary of state Antony Blinken took a helicopter tour on Sunday of one of the provinces worst affected by the February 6 earthquake in southern Turkey and northern Syria and pledged a further 100 million US dollars (£83 million) in aid to help the region.

“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Mr Blinken said at Incirlik Air Base, a joint US-Turkish facility that has coordinated the distribution of disaster aid.

“The search and rescue, unfortunately, is coming to an end. The recovery is on, and then there will be a massive rebuilding operation.”

US President Joe Biden announced 85 million dollars (£70.5 million) for Turkey and Syria days after the earthquake that has killed more than 44,000 people in the two countries.

The US has also sent a search and rescue team, medical supplies and equipment.

The additional aid includes 50 million dollars in emergency refugee and migration funds and 50 million dollars in humanitarian assistance, Mr Blinken said.

The secretary of state is making his first trip to Nato ally Turkey since he took office two years ago.

Mr Blinken arrived at Incirlik Air Base, near Adana, on Sunday after attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

He toured Turkey’s toured Hatay province from the air with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

He was expected to meet with US and Turkish service personnel, as well as Turkish military families affected by the earthquake.

“When you see the extent of the damage, the number of buildings, the number of apartments, the number of homes that have been destroyed, it’s going to take a massive effort to rebuild,” the top US diplomat said after the helicopter tour.

“The most important thing right now is to get assistance to people who need it, to get them through the winter and to get them back on their feet,” Mr Blinken said as troops nearby unloaded boxes of aid… We’ll stick with it until we get the job done.”

Incirlik, home to the US Air Force’s 39th Air Base Wing, has been a crucial logistics centre for aid distribution.

Supplies from around the world have been flown into the base and sent by truck and helicopter to those in need, including in difficult-to-reach villages.

Mr Blinken is set to fly to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, later on Sunday for discussions with Turkish officials on Monday, including an anticipated meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

As well as the effects of the earthquake, Mr Blinken is expected to discuss Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join Nato, which Turkey has delayed.

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