As unrest continues to spread near the Turkish-Syrian border, the Defense Dept. is taking precautions to keep military dependents out of harm’s way.
As the US. begins using the Incirlik airbase against Islamic State, security worries have prompted the Pentagon to take this extra step — setting a voluntary evacuation for dependents in Turkey.
In response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001. Incirlik served as a main hub of humanitarian airlift operations to Afghanistan, MC-130 special operations missions, KC-135 refueling missions and sustainment operations for deployed forces. The aerial port managed a 600 percent increase in airflow during the early stages of OEF.
Since last month, when the U.S. began using the key Turkish airbase to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, there’s been an increased threat level in the southeastern part of the country.
Turkish warplanes have also been using the base, about 70 miles from the Syrian border, to attack ISIS. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has called on Turkey to do more to contribute to the international fight against the Islamic State.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook denied that the voluntary evacuation was being offered in response to any “concrete danger” from Islamic State militants. He said the action was being taken “out of an abundance of caution” as unrest spreads in the region.
About 5,000 U.S. personnel are stationed at the base.
After a U.S.-Turkish agreement in July — F-16’s, flown by American pilots, were allowed to begin bombing Islamic State fighters across the Syrian border. Before the agreement 1,700 American service members, most of them in the Air Force, were at Incirlik.
Hundreds more U.S. airmen are arriving at the base to support the direct air campaign, which began in early August, when the first American bombers took off from Incirlik, according to McClatchy DC.
Also included in the voluntary evacuation — the dependents of about 200 Americans who work at the consulate in nearby Adana.
The offer of voluntary return home for American military and diplomatic dependents does not happen often, however, it is not unprecedented.
This latest authorization would apply to a total of about 900–mostly air force dependents– who would have the option to fly out of Turkey commercially and be reimbursed by the government. “Those family members who wish to remain in Turkey are free to do so at this time,” officials stated.