The Defense Department announced Thursday that up to 900 mostly Air Force dependents were being offered voluntary evacuations from the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, which the U.S. began using last month to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook did not point to any specific threats made against the huge Incirlik base, where about 5,000 U.S. personnel are stationed, but said the action was being taken "out of an abundance of caution" as unrest spreads in the region.
At a Pentagon briefing, Cook said the Defense Department and the State Department had authorized the "voluntary departure of family members of U.S. personnel stationed at Incirlik Air Base and our consulate in Adana, about five miles from the airfield."
He said the authorization would apply to a total of about 900 dependents who would "have the option to depart Turkey at government expense. Those family members who wish to remain in Turkey are free to do so at this time."
Last month, U.S. F-16 fighter jets based at Incirlik began bombing runs against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria targets in Syria. Turkish warplanes have also been using the base in southeastern Turkey about 70 miles from the Syrian border to attack ISIS under an evolving agreement on joining the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.
Turkey has also been bombing positions of the PKK, or Kurdish Workers Party, in northwestern Iraq, and Kurdish militants have been hitting back against Turkish police and soldiers inside Turkey, lending to the unrest in the region.
Cook said the availability of voluntary departures was made known Thursday to dependents at Incirlik and at Adana. Those who wanted to leave would fly out commercially and be reimbursed by the government, he said.
The U.S. military routinely prepares for what it calls "non-combatant evacuation operations" from trouble spots around the world during times of natural disasters, civil unrest and terrorist threats.
In 2011, nearly 8,000 military dependents signed up for voluntary departures from Japan during the tsunami and nuclear power plant crisis.
Incirlik, which has a 10,000-foot runway and more than 50 hardened aircraft shelters, is home to the 39th Air Base Wing. The base is shared with about 800 personnel from the 10th Air Wing of the 2nd Air Force Command of the Turkish Air Force.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.