DOD to Evacuate 670 Military Dependents, 287 Pets From Turkey — How Many @StateDept Evacuees?

Posted: 2:16 am ET
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Via DPB of March 29, 2016:

QUESTION: All right. Okay. Moving on just to the announcement from you guys on the – and the DOD today on Turkey and the ordered departures. Your colleague at the Pentagon has spent the last several minutes answering – or saying that there was no specific threat that has led to this and that it was just decided out of an abundance of caution that you should go ahead and – my question is: If there was no specific threat, why do it now?

MR KIRBY: That’s a great question. So my colleague is right. The decision to do this, first of all, wasn’t taken lightly. It was done after careful thought and consideration and interagency coordination, I might add. And I think it’s very much a result of our ongoing assessment of security conditions there in Turkey and in recognition of the threat environment in Adana, specifically in southeastern Turkey from a regional perspective. So the why now is I think – when you talk about the now – rather than talk about the now in terms of today or the last few hours, try to keep in mind that this was really a decision that was several weeks in the making in terms of assessing the security situation there, which undoubtedly – and you guys have reported on the terrorism threat that has existed there, the recent attacks. Secretary Kerry alluded to some of these attacks yesterday in the camera spray with the Turkish foreign minister. So this was a decision that, again, was, I think, several weeks in the making.
[…]
QUESTION: And with all that, the brains in this building and the Pentagon decided that today, right in between – right just before a President Erdogan visit, is the day to do something that you could have done last week or the week before or even next week. Does that —

MR KIRBY: We – I – look, I can’t dispute the conspiracy theorists, that they might think that there was more to it than this, that this was some sort of —

QUESTION: I would hope you do want to dispute.

MR KIRBY: I am.

QUESTION: Oh.

MR KIRBY: I mean, I can’t dispute that there are people that think that way.

QUESTION: Will think that. All right.

MR KIRBY: But I certainly can dispute the actual allegation. I can tell you, having watched the process churn now over the last several weeks, that this was done with the – with deep consideration and careful thought, interagency communication. And again, this is not the kind of decision that we take lightly. We take it very seriously. And so therefore want to do it in an appropriate, measured, deliberate fashion, and also do it at what we believe is the right time. And we believe this is the right time to do this.

QUESTION: Last one. The Pentagon was quite specific about the number of people that this was going to affect. Actually, they were even – they were quite specific about the number of pets that it would affect. How many people will this affect in terms of the State Department?

MR KIRBY: It is a small number of family members. I do not have an exact figure, but we can see if we can —

QUESTION: Oh, I know. I know you won’t give them to me. I just want to know why the Pentagon is so willing to talk about this, down to cats and dogs and little bunny rabbits, and you guys, for some reason, have a different – you’re more important, so you don’t have to —

MR KIRBY: I wouldn’t —

QUESTION: — you don’t have to give numbers about how many.

MR KIRBY: Now, Matt, I don’t —

QUESTION: That’s – so that’s the – that’s my question. Why?

MR KIRBY: The question or —

QUESTION: No, no. That’s my question. Why won’t the State Department do what the DOD did and give specific numbers?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it – and I’m happy to research this after the briefing. As I understand it, we don’t typically offer —

QUESTION: I know. This is my —

MR KIRBY: — details on the number of dependents and family members —

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s my – that’s my question.

MR KIRBY: — at any given station for security purposes. And we have – I can’t – but having worked in both institutions, I recognize that the State Department has a different threshold for security concerns about dependents and family members.

QUESTION: Why? That’s my question. Why? Why won’t you —

MR KIRBY: Okay. Well, I’ll see what I can do to find a better answer for you on why, but we aren’t going to release an exact number. And I don’t —

QUESTION: Well, I know you’re not. But I’d like just to —

MR KIRBY: And I don’t know that the Pentagon actually said how many bunnies they have.

QUESTION: They said something like 278 pets.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Now I don’t know if they broke that down into goldfish or squirrels.

MR KIRBY: Well, your question alluded to hamsters and bunnies, and I just want to make sure that we’re clear on that.

QUESTION: Actually, it just – just bunnies.

MR KIRBY: Just bunnies, okay. (Laughter.) All right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) discussion. Can I just – (laughter) – I think that should go down in history. (Laughter.) (Inaudible) between the Pentagon and the U.S. on travel alerts. Was that made independent of each other or are they related?

MR KIRBY: The – I’m sorry, the?

QUESTION: The decision by – the announcement by DOD on the drawing down —

MR KIRBY: No, this was a coordinated —

QUESTION: It is a —

MR KIRBY: This was a coordinated decision and a coordinated announcement. We were in lockstep with the Pentagon as we arrived at this decision.

QUESTION: Was there anything that triggered the specific discussions that something needs to be done to take security to the next level?

MR KIRBY: I think, again, without getting into specific intelligence issues, and certainly – and I want to again echo what I said to Matt earlier. I mean, this wasn’t the result of a specific threat to a specific institution or locality or by a specific group. This was based on an analysis over the last several weeks, certainly, of the security situation in Turkey, which undoubtedly – and you guys have covered this yourselves – has become more dangerous, particularly in southeastern Turkey. So it was based on a running analysis of the security threat there, an analysis that we share with the Pentagon about the level of potential danger here. And again, this was a decision made out of an abundance of caution to keep people as safe as possible.

Note that a 2010 OIG report of US Mission Turkey indicates that the U.S. Consulate in Adana is a small post with four direct hire employees.  OIG reported at that time that Adana was getting its first public affairs officer (PAO) in 2010 and its first RSO was to to arrive in 2011 following language training. A lot of regional developments have happened since then so post’s staffing complement of 6 direct hire employees may have already been overtaken by events. There was also local employee hiring for a Branch Office in Gaziantep (located closer to the Syrian border) in 2014, but we don’t have publicly available information regarding that presence at this time.  As for Izmir, the following is a snippet from the 2010 OIG report:

The American presence in Izmir in Western Turkey has changed markedly over the years. An American consulate existed in Izmir from 1803 to 1993. When it was closed for budgetary reasons, a consular agency was established. That agency was closed in 2002, when an American Presence Post was opened. The 2004 OIG in­ spection team recommended that the American Presence Post be closed as it was not clear what the post contributed to mission objectives. The American Presence Post was closed in 2005, and a consular agency was reestablished. What remains in Izmir today is a combination of U.S. Government personnel and activities that achieves the bare minimum of what could be possible in this dynamic port city, the third larg­est in Turkey. A consular agent occupies comfortable leased space in a commercial building. There are no outward signs that identify this facility as belonging to the U.S. Government. The consular workload is modest. Where needed, the able consular agent calls on the aid of the British consul, who has a long history in Izmir.

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US Embassy Beirut and US Consulate Adana (Turkey) Now on Departure Orders for Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

— By Domani Spero

Update @ 10:21 am — US Consulate Adana:  We have been informed that the US Consulate in Adana is on “authorized departure” with leaving post voluntary for the non-emergency personnel and family members. Note that neither the US Embassy in Ankara nor the USCG in Istanbul is on this order.  So the “draw downees” from Adana, if there are any, potentially will not depart the country but will be evacuated to Ankara or Istanbul (evacuees from Lahore were sent to Islamabad after the recent closure of the consulate general in the city).

We understand that post did not request this departure status.  The concern we’re hearing is that because of Benghazi and the “abundance of caution” mandate, “we have people who have likely never been to Turkey, making decisions for post.”  Our source points out that Adana is not only home for the US Consulate but also home to Incirlik Air Force Base, a Turkish air base which hosts the 39th Air Base Wing to “support and protect U.S. and NATO assets and people throughout Turkey while providing a full spectrum of capabilities to the warfighter.” The US presence at Incirlik includes hundreds of Air Force personnel and family members. The base is located  a little less than 5 kilometers from the American Consulate. As of this writing, neither DOD or USAF has made any announcement about the departure of its non-emergency personnel and family members from Adana.  — end update

The State Department on September 6 issued a new Travel Warning for Turkey recommending that American citizens defer non-essential travel to southeastern Turkey and announcing the departure of non-emergency staff and family members:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Turkey that the U.S. Consulate General in Adana has been authorized to draw down its non-emergency staff and family members because of threats against U.S. government facilities and personnel.  The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens defer non-essential travel to southeastern Turkey.

On September 6, the Department of State permitted the drawdown of U.S. government non-emergency personnel and family members from the U.S. Consulate General in Adana, Turkey.  U.S. citizens seeking to depart Turkey are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. There are no plans for charter flights or other U.S. government-sponsored evacuations.

U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Turkey should be alert to the potential for violence.  We strongly urge U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings.  Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  There have been no direct attacks on U.S. citizens.

Update @ 10:22 — US Embassy Beirut: As of this week, a reliable source told us that the State Department is deferring sending previously scheduled newly-assigned personnel to Lebanon. Unlike Adana which is on “authorized departure” Beirut is on “ordered departure” with leaving post mandatory for affected personnel and family members.  — end update 

The State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Lebanon urging American citizens to avoid travel to the country and announcing the departure non-emergency personnel and family members from Embassy Beirut.

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns. U.S. citizens living and working in Lebanon should understand that they accept risks in remaining and should carefully consider those risks. On September 6, the Department of State drew down non-emergency personnel and family members from Embassy Beirut due to potential threats to U.S. Mission facilities and personnel. This supersedes the Travel Warning issued on April 1, 2013.

The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains.  Lebanese government authorities are not able to guarantee protection for citizens or visitors to the country should violence erupt suddenly.  Access to borders, airports, roads, and seaports can be interrupted with little or no warning.  Public demonstrations occur frequently with little warning and have the potential to become violent.  Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes often escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with little or no warning.  The ability of U.S. government personnel to reach travelers or provide emergency services may be severely limited. 

The Fulbright and the English Language Fellow programs that provided grants to U.S. scholars to live and work in Lebanon during the academic year remain suspended because of the security situation and the increased possibility of attacks against U.S. citizens in Lebanon.

Embassy Bierut’s September 6 Security Message to U.S. citizens also says that  “the Embassy does not offer “protection” services to individuals who feel unsafe.  U.S. citizens with special medical or other needs should be aware of the risks of remaining in Lebanon given their condition and should be prepared to seek treatment in Lebanon if they cannot arrange for travel out of the country. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Lebanon who choose to remain should be aware that the U.S. Embassy’s ability to reach all areas of Lebanon is limited.”

While the Security Message also notes that there are “no plans to conduct a U.S. government-sponsored evacuation at this time” it suggests that “U.S. citizens concerned for their safety should consider making plans to depart by commercial means”  as the Beirut International Airport is open and commercial flights are operating.

The US Embassy Lebanon evacuation in 2006 is still the largest U.S. government-facilitated evacuations in recent memory.  The Security Message points out that USG-evacuation for private Americans “occur only when no safe commercial alternatives exist.” Also that “evacuation assistance is provided on a cost-recovery basis, which means the traveler must reimburse the U.S. government for travel costs.”

We note that both these announcements are now using the term “draw down” to describe the reduction of personnel and family members at two posts.  A draw down can be both “authorized departure” (staff and family members have option to leave or stay) or ordered departure (leaving is mandatory).  Since commercial flights are still operating in both these cases, we are presuming, although we could be wrong, that the draw down for both posts are “authorized” at this time.

We anticipate that more posts will be evacuated sorry, will go on draw down as the march to bombing another country heats up.

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US Embassy Ankara Restricts USG Travel to 16 Turkish Provinces

On October 23, the US Embassy in Ankara informed US citizens in Turkey that it expanded the number of provinces in the country that requires special permission for official and unofficial travel by US government employees. Excerpt below from its Emergency Message:

The Embassy advises U.S. citizens that we have recently added the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, and Șanlıurfa to the list of provinces in southeast Turkey for which special permission is required for any necessary official or unofficial travel by U.S. government employees. The other restricted provinces are Şırnak, Diyarbakır, Van, Siirt, Muș, Mardin, Batman, Bingöl, Tunceli, Hakkâri, Bitlis and Elaziğ. U.S government employees are required to take special precautions when traveling in these provinces, to include consulting with local security officials on current threats. If road travel is necessary, drive only during daylight hours and on major highways. The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the situation in southeast Turkey, while usually calm, can change without warning. Over the past several months, provinces in southeast Turkey have experienced a substantial increase in terrorist attacks and kidnappings. Turkish towns located directly along the border with Syria have also been struck by bullets and artillery rounds originating in Syria, with some resulting in deaths or injuries.

In addition to the well-known, longstanding threat from terrorists associated with Kongra-Gel (KGK, also known as PKK), other violent extremists have transited Turkey en route to Syria. Therefore, we recommend that U.S. citizens take care in meetings with individuals claiming to represent the Syrian opposition movement.

 

I should note that we have a small consulate in Adana, as well as Incirlik Air Base a few kilometers from the city.