The Air Force is considering restoring two-year accompanied tours as its standard assignments at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
Seven years after ending accompanied tours there, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa said a task force visited the base last week to assess the feasibility of returning to standard OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.) tours at Incirlik, according to a news release.
Airmen at Incirlik have been on 12-month unaccompanied tours since the fall of 2016, when the Pentagon ordered military dependents out of the country due to rising tensions in the area. That summer, an attempted military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government forced a brief pause in air operations at the base, and was followed by public protests outside the base over unfounded suspicions that the U.S. had been involved in the coup attempt. In the aftermath, some Turkish officials, including Erdogan even questioned whether U.S. and NATO aircraft should be allowed to use Incirlik.
Since then relations between the U.S. and Turkey have not been smooth. Despite warnings over its plan to buy Russian air defense systems, Turkey went through with a deal to buy the Russian S-400, prompting the U.S. and its allies to kick Turkey out of the F-35 program. Then, when Sweden and Finland said they wanted to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey was the lone opposition, before ultimately acquiescing to both. Now that Turkey has set aside its opposition, the situation has seemingly stabilized.
Incirlik played a key role in the flow of humanitarian aid to Turkey after catastrophic earthquakes in February.
A full assessment of restoring standard OCONUS tours to Incirlik will be completed this fall, with a report expected this winter, according to the Air Force release. But that may just be a formality.
“While the task force from USAFE considers feasibility of unconditional return of dependents, security conditions … support a return of standard OCONUS tours today,” the release stated.
Col. Kevin Lord, 39th Air Base Wing commander, said in a statement: “The reinstatement of standard tours and rescinding of DOD policy will give our team the flexibility to designate key positions on base for continuity.”
Lord said the move would improve operational effectiveness at the base. “Our surety mission is something we take seriously,” he said. “Our team is advocating for return to standard OCONUS tours as a means to improve proficiency and continuity. 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.”
Air Force officials are in no rush, however, and Lt Col. Charles Setzer, 39th Mission Support Group Deputy commander, said any change will take time to put in place.
“We are not considering a full-scale, unconditional return of dependents immediately,” Setzer said. “It will take a phased approach based on the [courses of action] we are presented.”