Families of U.S. Diplomats, Military Personnel Ordered to Leave Turkey

Dion Nissenbaum – Wall Street Journal
Updated March 29, 2016 12:22 p.m. ET

ISTANBUL—The U.S. government on Tuesday ordered hundreds of Americans to leave Turkey because of increased security concerns, the latest sign of international anxiety over series of terrorist attacks that has left scores of people dead from Pakistan to Belgium.

The Pentagon and State Department said in a statement they had directed family members of military and diplomatic personnel in Turkey to leave the country, which has been hit by four major attacks this year, including a suicide bomber who killed four people earlier this month in Istanbul.

As a result, more than 650 Americans are expected to depart Turkey in coming days. Those affected by the order include relatives of U.S. military personnel working in southeastern Turkey, close to the Syrian border, the western coast around Izmir and southwestern Turkey, near a naval base. The decision doesn’t affect those living in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, or Ankara, its capital.

U.S. officials said the move also included relatives of State Department personnel based at the American consulate in the southern city of Adana.

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

U.S. officials said the move was aimed at protecting Americans while ensuring that key military missions, especially battling Islamic State, wouldn’t be affected.

The decision comes a day after Israel urged its citizens to leave Turkey “as soon as possible” because of concerns about attacks from Islamic State extremists. Two weeks ago, a suspected Islamic State suicide bomber killed four people, including two Israeli-Americans, on one of Istanbul’s busiest pedestrian malls.

Over the past few weeks, European leaders closed diplomatic missions in Turkey because of increased security concerns.

The Dutch consulate in Istanbul reopened Tuesday after being shut for nearly a week. Earlier this month, Germany closed its embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul because of security concerns. A German school in Istanbul also shut its doors temporarily.

News of the decision comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heading to Washington to attend a nuclear security summit.

Mr. Erdogan is hoping to meet with President Barack Obama, but the U.S. leader turned down his Turkish counterpart’s request to take part in the inauguration of a Turkish-funded mosque in Maryland.

U.S. officials said Mr. Obama would not hold a formal one-on-one meeting with Mr. Erdogan, but the Turkish president said Tuesday that he still expects to briefly meet with the U.S. president when they attend the summit, which includes delegations from more than 50 nations.

Last fall, the U.S. military authorized the voluntary departure of relatives of American personnel based at Incirlik Air Base, the major military hub in southeastern Turkey used for airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Turkey and Iraq.

About 90 Americans left last fall. Another 650 Americans from across Turkey are expected to leave in the coming days.