“The decision to move our families and civilians was made in consultation with the Government of Turkey, our State Department, and our Secretary of Defense,” Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the commander of European Command, said in a statement. “We understand this is disruptive to our military families, but we must keep them safe and ensure the combat effectiveness of our forces to support our strong Ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism.”
In a separate advisory, the State Department said it had ordered the departure of family members of officials posted to the U.S. consulate in Adana, near the Mediterranean coast in south-central Turkey and in Izmir and Mugla provinces on the western coast. Official travel in Turkey has been restricted to “mission critical” only. The advisory warns that foreign and U.S. tourists have been “explicitly targeted” by terrorist organizations, and should avoid any travel “in close proximity to the Syrian border.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said about 670 people will be affected by the move, while about 100 more in Ankara and Istanbul will be allowed to stay. The decision was made due to an “abundance of caution” based on threats in the region, he said.
The move is escalation to the U.S. government’s efforts to protect family members in Turkey. Last year, the Defense Department urged hundreds of family members to leave voluntarily but did not require it. But it’s still noteworthy, considering Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and its role as in the campaign against the Islamic State.
The decision affects military families who are stationed in the cities of Adana, Izmir and Mugla. Adana is home to Incirlik Air Base, which has been used to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State. Izmir is about 200 miles southwest of Istanbul on Turkey’s western coast and home to an Air Force installation. Mugla province is home to Aksaz Naval Base, on the Aegean Coast.
The decision comes a few weeks after the third bombing in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara since October. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, also was hit with bombings this month and in January. Both bombings in Istanbul were linked to Islamic State militants.
Turkish officials have linked the October bombing in Ankara with the Islamic State, but the Ankara attacks in February and March have been claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a nationalist militant group that wants to establish a separate Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. The group is considered a breakaway group from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.
The State Department warned earlier this month of increased threats by terrorist groups throughout Turkey and advised Americans not to travel to southeastern Turkey, closer to Syria and Iraq.
“Recent terrorist attacks from international and indigenous groups have targeted popular tourist sites, U.S. government buildings, police, and other local authorities throughout Turkey,” the State Department said in a warning issued March 17. “The threat of kidnapping remains a concern, especially in the southeast. There have been incidents of cross-border shelling from Syria into Turkey.”
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.