Air Force stops family moves to Incirlik Air Base
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 5, 2015
The Air Force has suspended the move of U.S. servicemembers’ families to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey in light of increased worries of violence in the region.
The announcement, via a news bulletin issued Friday afternoon, comes a day after the Defense and State departments decided to offer dependents at Incirlik and nearby Adana the option to fly back to the States.
“Military and civilian members with approved dependent travel who have not yet outprocessed from their current duty stations should contact their local military personnel sections or civilian personnel sections for guidance,” the release said. “Those with approved dependent travel who are already en route to Turkey should contact their losing personnel sections.”
The decisions come as Turkey takes a bigger role in the fight against Islamic State militants, allowing U.S. fighter jets and drones to fly from Incirlik, as well as joining the airstrike campaign themselves.
Statements issued on the possible evacuation of dependents have said there is no known specific threat against the base or its population, but the moves are being taken as a precautionary measure. The Islamic State has continued to encourage its followers to carry out “lone wolf” attacks around the globe.
All military personnel assigned to Incirlik live on base, with families occupying hundreds of new homes built in the last decade and single lower-enlisted personnel living in dormitories. It’s the only base in Europe that doesn’t allow servicemembers to live off base. Many American civilians assigned to Incirlik also live on base.
The State Department mans a consulate in Adana, the fifth largest city in Turkey, a short drive away.
The evacuation offer issued Thursday was not mandatory, but would allow those interested in returning to the States to do so at government expense, if they desired. The small Department of Defense Education Activity school on base remains open.
It’s not the first time a voluntary evacuation has occurred at Incirlik. Dependents were given a similar option in 2003 as the U.S. launched attacks on Iraq.
Thursday’s announcement accompanied a State Department travel warning for southeastern Turkey, recommending that Americans stay away from areas surrounding the border with Syria, according to The Associated Press.
Officials said the warning and voluntary evacuation didn’t apply to other areas in Turkey, including Istanbul, the U.S. Embassy at Ankara and the NATO mission at Izmir. But officials said it was possible the evacuation could expand, AP reported.
Incirlik has one of the smallest populations of any U.S. Air Forces in Europe facility, with fewer than 2,000 airmen normally assigned there. The base population has grown somewhat recently, with about 300 airmen from the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy temporarily assigned there to fly and maintain a half dozen F-16s that have begun to target Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. Incirlik has no permanent U.S. aircraft assigned, but has long served as a temporary hub for cargo and re-fueling missions supporting U.S. planes in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Turkey decided to allow the U.S. to base fighters at Incirlik earlier this summer after it sustained several attacks in the border area it blamed on Islamic State forces or Turkish separatists who operate on both sides of the border.
Incirlik is also used by the Turkish military, which provides security for the sprawling facility and controls access to the base.