Homeland Security

State Dept., Defense Families Ordered to Leave Southern Turkey Posts

Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks to reporters on Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Dec. 15, 2015. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen)

U.S. personnel were ordered to leave southern Turkey today in light of a new travel warning issued by the State Department.

The Tuesday warning alerts U.S. citizens of “increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey.”

The State Department “ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government personnel posted to U.S. Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. government civilians in Izmir and Mugla provinces, and restricted official travel to Turkey to ‘mission-critical’ travel only.”

The U.S. Consulate in Adana remains open for all routine consular services.

At the Pentagon today, press secretary Peter Cook said all Defense Department dependents “not assigned to chief of mission authority from Adana, to include Incirlik Air Base, Izmir and Mugla” were ordered to leave.

“This decision allows for the deliberate safe return of family members from these areas due to continued security concerns in the region,” Cook said, adding it “in no way signifies a permanent decision” to curb operations at these facilities “and is specifically intended to mitigate the risk to DOD elements and personnel, including family members, while ensuring the combat effectiveness of U.S. forces and our support mission to operations in Turkey.”

Cook said 770 DoD dependents are in Turkey right now; 670 would be affected by the order.

“There’s no specific threat that triggered this, but a broader decision based on what we’ve seen in the region. You all have seen some of the things playing out in the region that — this decision was being made at this time,” he said. It’s an uptick from the voluntary departures urged in September.

Cook said the relocation of family members is expected to occur “very quickly.”

Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with his Turkish counterpart. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due in town this week for the Nuclear Security Summit.

“I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t also say that in yesterday’s bilateral discussion with the Turkish foreign minister the Secretary did raise this so that – and to explain to the foreign minister the decision we were making, why we were making it, and how we were going to make it public,” State Department press secretary John Kirby said at the daily media briefing. “And he was very understanding and appreciative of the situational awareness. He seemed appreciative to me. I mean, I was there.”

Kirby denied that the timing was intended to embarrass the Turkish leader as he came to Washington.

Three days ago, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara advised U.S. citizens in the country “that Turkish media is reporting warnings of an Easter threat by ISIL against places of worship, including churches, synagogues and diplomatic missions.”

“The Turkish National Police plans enhanced coverage for these types of locations,” the message added. “No specific locations are named nor is any of the information being attributed to the U.S.”

“U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain situational awareness and the ability to communicate in an emergency. Keep a low profile, stay away from crowds and demonstrations and avoid becoming time and place predictable.”

The new State Department warning stresses that “foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations.”

“U.S. citizens are reminded to review personal security plans and remain vigilant at all times. U.S. government personnel in Turkey remain subject to travel restrictions in southeastern provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingol, Tunceli, Hakkari, Bitlis, and Elazig. U.S. citizens should avoid areas in close proximity to the Syrian border.”