September 3, 2015 / 5:33 PM / in 2 years

U.S. to offer families option of leaving Turkey base, consulate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will give families of American personnel at a military base and consulate in Turkey the option of relocating now that the base has become central to the air campaign against Islamic State militants, officials said on Thursday.

Six U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base, Italy, are seen at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, after being deployed, in this U.S. Air Force handout picture taken August 9, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Michael Battles/Handout

The U.S. military last month started launching manned and unmanned air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria from the Incirlik air base near the southern city of Adana in Turkey. Turkey has also launched strikes out of Incirlik.

The option to relocate applies to the air base at Incirlik and the U.S. consulate in Adana, the State Department and Department of Defense said.

“This decision was made out of an abundance of caution,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the base was safe but also acknowledged a heightened threat since the start of high-profile air operations in August.

Security precautions at the base have been tightened, potentially making life less comfortable for families of U.S. military personnel living there.

The defense official estimated there were 900 dependents there who were eligible for voluntary departure.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at a daily news briefing that the families had just been made aware of the option to leave, and he did not know how many would decide to relocate.

Turkey agreed in July to open its strategically important air bases to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, but it has been reluctant to play a leading role in the fight for fear of a backlash.

On July 24, Turkish warplanes attacked Islamic State targets in Syria, but not as part of the coalition operation. On Aug. 29, Turkish jets took part in U.S.-led air strikes in Syria.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Bill Trott and Mohammad Zargham

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