WASHINGTON (AP) — Hundreds of military and diplomatic family members near Incirlik air base in southern Turkey are being told they can leave the country, U.S. officials said Thursday, citing increased worries about violence in the region.
The decision comes as Turkey takes a bigger role in the fight against Islamic State militants, joining the airstrike campaign and allowing expanded use of the Incirlik base by the U.S. for fighter jet and drone missions.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, head of U.S. European Command, recommended the voluntary departure because of specific calls by militants for lone wolf attacks against the air base. Breedlove also asked that officials consider broadening the plan to other parts of Turkey if needed. Officials said Defense Secretary Ash Carter endorsed the plan this week and may yet widen it, said U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
"This decision was made out of an abundance of caution, following the commencement of military operations out of Incirlik Airbase," said State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner.
The decision affects only the families of U.S. troops at Incirlik and diplomats at the consulate in nearby Adana. Families aren't required to leave, but the U.S. government would pay expenses for those who do. Defense Department schools will remain open for those who stay.
The State Department also issued a travel warning for the region Thursday, noting that the consulate in Adana authorized the departure of family members due to concerns surrounding the military operations being launched from Incirlik. The travel warning also says that the U.S. "strongly recommends" that American citizens avoid areas near the Syrian border.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the plan could affect up to 900 family members but that it's too early to tell how many may leave. He said it doesn't apply to Ankara, Istanbul or other regions where other military and diplomatic personnel are posted.
"We're just being abundantly safe here," said Cook, adding that families will be able to leave on commercial flights and will be reimbursed for the costs.