US Military and Diplomatic Families Ordered to Leave Southern Turkey

PHOTO:In this file photo, a military personnel is seen at Incirlik Airbase in Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015. Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
In this file photo, a military personnel is seen at Incirlik Airbase in Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015.

The Pentagon and State Department have ordered the departure of military and diplomatic families from southern Turkey for what U.S. European Command calls "continued security concerns in the region."

The mandatory departure of these American families comes on the same day the State Department issued a travel warning for American citizens in Turkey, citing the threat from terrorist groups.

That warning urges Americans to avoid travel to southeastern Turkey, particularly near the Syrian border, and cautions Americans to avoid large crowds and political rallies.

The Pentagon acknowledged its decision would be disruptive to families serving overseas, but insists safety is a priority. Neither department pointed to a specific security threat or any known plots to target Americans. "Foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations," the travel warning states.

“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,” said Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Commander, U.S. European Command. “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.”

Turkey has been hit by a number of terror attacks this year. On March 19, an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber killed four people and wounded 36 in a tourist section of Istanbul. Just a week earlier, 37 were killed by a bomb in Ankara in an attack carried out by the PKK, a Kurdish terrorist group.

The U.S. European Command insisted that the decision to remove dependents would not be a permanent one. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said 670 military dependents would be affected by this decision and that the process would begin be right away. Cook said 100 additional military families living in Istanbul and Ankara will not be made to leave. The State Department said families members employed by the consulate in Adana will also be allowed to stay.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the decision will only affect a "small number" of families, but declined to provide a more precise figure.

Last September, the U.S. military and the State Department authorized reimbursement of travel costs for dependents who wished to leave southern Turkey because of security concerns.

At the time, officials said the move was not pegged to a specific security threat. U.S. air operations against ISIS began at Incirlik Air Base in July; since then the Turkish base has been at a higher force protection level, even inside the base.

While families of U.S. government workers affected by this decision are located throughout southern Turkey, many of them are living in Izmir and Mugla, areas far west of the southern border with Syria.

The city of Izmir is located on Turkey's western coast, south of Istanbul, and is Turkey's third largest city. Mugla is located in southwestern Turkey.

Incirlik Air Base is near Adana in southeastern Turkey, closer to the border region with Syria.