Carter: Incirlik power expected to be back on soon

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Trenton Beard and Eduardo Reyes, 39th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels specialists, refuel a generator July 19, 2016, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The power cut at the base has sparked concerns about Turkey's long-term support for combat flights out of Incirlik.

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2016

STUTTGART, Germany — Turkey will restore power to Incirlik Air Base, a key hub for U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State, in a matter of days, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday after speaking with his Turkish counterpart.

Turkey cut power to the base hours after a failed coup attempt Friday as the government sought to consolidate power and began rounding up suspected coup plotters. Airspace around the base also was shut down Saturday, but was reopened after the arrest of the Turkish general in charge of the installation. He was among more than 6,000 military personnel who have been implicated as conspirators in an attempted coup that nearly toppled Turkey’s democratically elected government.

Stories on Turkey's attempted military coup and its aftermath

“With respect to bases like Incirlik, because it was a coup that involves some elements of the military, they’ve been very careful for a while,” Carter told a news conference in Washington. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik “assured me that they’ll be returning to normal there at Incirlik shortly.”

As of Thursday morning, commercial power was still off at Incirlik.

After a brief interruption when the airspace was closed, U.S. operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria have continued from the base. However, measures have been taken to conserve power in lieu of commercial electricity.

The focus must remain on the mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, U.S. European Command spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez said.

“We continue to conduct air and base operations at Incirlik,” he said. “For operational security reasons, we will not discuss specifics regarding force or aircraft movements.”

EUCOM said it is taking measures to ensure the mission continues uninterrupted.

“We have redundancy measures in place, specifically for these type of situations,” Hernandez said.

Running exclusively on backup generators is more expensive than relying on commercial power. While base operations could continue indefinitely on such backup power, it also would require guarantees of a steady delivery of fuel.

Reliance on generators was commonplace in remote deployment zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At Incirlik, the loss of power is a reminder that life at the base is far from returning to what it was only a few months ago, when it was home to hundreds of military spouses and children who attended school and competed on sports teams.

In March, the Pentagon pulled families out of the base because of security concerns after a series of terrorist attacks. Now, generators are abuzz around the clock as warplanes routinely launch from the runway.

Since the attempted coup, security conditions for U.S. forces in Turkey have been elevated to DELTA — the highest security level — meaning that troops are essentially restricted to post.

On Thursday, Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency. It wasn’t clear if that would have any effect on U.S. forces.

For some family members back home, the changes are a cause for anxiety.

“My daughter is there, still without lights & hot water in her dorm. Everything is not running as normal ... ppl are sleeping on sleeping bags in the warehouse just to stay cool. This is so upsetting!” wrote one parent on the base’s Facebook page.

EUCOM said measures must be taken to conserve energy.

Col. John Walker, 39th Air Base Wing commander at Incirlik, said locations with air conditioning have been designated as cool spots to provide personnel an area to cool off, receive wireless internet, charge devices and sleep. Food, water and fuel continue to be delivered.

“We are working hard to ensure we have what we need to sustain and continue our mission here,” Walker said.