Airmen May Again Get Accompanied Tours to Incirlik After Turkey Security Situation Improves

U.S. military personnel depart Incirlik Air Base, Turkey
Families of U.S. airmen and Defense Department civilians board a C-17 Globemaster III during an ordered departure, March 30, 2016, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. (Senior Airman John Nieves Camacho/U.S. Air Force)

Air Force officials are considering allowing families and dependents to join airmen on tours to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. If finalized, that move would reverse a seven-year policy that established the location as an unaccompanied tour.

A project task force team with U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa met at Incirlik Air Base last week to "assess the feasibility" of returning to standard tours, according to a Monday press release. If any such change is approved, officials said it would likely happen gradually.

"We are not considering a full-scale, unconditional return of dependents immediately," Lt. Col. Charles Setzer, the 39 Mission Support Group deputy commander, said in the press release. "It will take a phased approach based on the [courses of action] we are presented."

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Almost seven years ago, on Sept. 29, 2016, the Air Force announced that deployments to Turkey were going to be unaccompanied 12-month tours "taking into account the region's current security environment and in consultation with the State Department and Turkish government," according to a 2016 press release.

Prior to that announcement, it was a 24-month accompanied tour option or a 15-month unaccompanied tour for airmen.

Turkey has been a NATO ally since the 1950s and has played a key military role for the U.S. in fighting the Islamic State in the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq. Frequent terrorist attacks in 2016 and an attempted coup that same year prompted the Air Force's policy change.

Earlier in 2016, prior to the policy change, military families were ordered to evacuate bases in the country to keep them safe from possible attacks, reported at the time.

But Monday's press release from the Air Force acknowledged that the threat levels have changed since that time.

"According to local and international security experts, the threats which inspired standing short tour policy no longer exist," Monday's press release said. "While the task force from USAFE considers feasibility of unconditional return of dependents, security conditions at Incirlik AB, Izmir, and Ankara support a return of standard OCONUS tours today."

The task force at Incirlik is gathering data with an "assessment that will be made later this fall" and a final report "expected this winter."

"We want to make sure we are working together to reach this milestone in returning to standard OCONUS tours for our airmen," Col. Kevin Lord, 39th Air Base Wing commander, said in the press release. "Once policy allows, our team at the 39th ABW plans to support standard-length tours for key personnel, accompanied or not, as soon as possible."

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: US Military Families Ordered to Evacuate Turkey

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