Inside İncirlik Airbase: Life goes on between combat and consort with allies
Öykü Altuntaş – Doğan News Agency
AA PhotoTurkey’s İncirlik Airbase in southeastern Adana province, which marks a key air base for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has also seen a transformation into a more “self-sustained” mechanism with its “Patriot Village,” which is capable of housing more than 1,800 people. Doğan News Agency has reported on the situation in Incirlik after an intense media briefing and tour with U.S. military officers.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the 39th Air Wing at the base as part of his Middle East tour launched in Turkey on Dec. 15. Within the high-level visit, İncirlik opened its doors wider than ever to Turkish and American media.
While military activities intensify and top-level visits become more frequent within the anti-ISIL fight in Syria and Iraq, hundreds of military families have been “evacuated” for security reasons in recent months.
Meanwhile missions and preparations carried out by coalition forces against ISIL continue at İncirlik, with the accompaniment of German and French aircraft deployed this month.
Motto: ‘Larger than life’
The U.S. wing’s mission motto is described as “larger than life,” with priorities listed as “combat readiness, strengthening the alliance, enhancing quality of life for airmen and [their] families, as well as shaping a sustainable future for the İncirlik Airbase team and the U.S. community.”
In this regard, F-15E Strike Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers and A-10 Thunderbolts constitute the basics of the wing, although F-15Es were said to have been drawn back.
An F-15E Strike Eagle pilot identified as Maj. Tim told DHA their primary mission was to support the coalition amid the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq and they were happy to have observed progress. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter performing air-to-air and air-to-ground missions at low altitude.
A mission, including flight time and preparations, typically takes around six to seven hours, said Maj. Tim, who underlined that İncirlik’s strategic location, some 100 nautical miles from the fight’s main theater, allowed for easier refuelling and faster travel time, as well as enabling them to stay on station for a longer period of time.
“The [U.S.] squadron operations building is located right next door to the Turkish operations building, so we are able to chat with them [and] trade lessons learned. We eat together with Germans and other coalition partners in dining rooms,” he said.
Accordingly, another member of the U.S. Air Force identified as Maj. Charlie said he has been flying the A-10 Thunderbolt for around eight years and had been stationed at İncirlik for just six weeks. The Thunderbolt, known as the “tank-killer,” has been used for long time by the U.S. Air Force, with its indispensable platform offering close air support, 30-milimeter-long machine gun artillery and laser-controlled missiles and bombs.
During daily operations to Iraq and Syria to bomb ISIL targets, they have flown around 500 combat sorties so far, while missions take over eight hours and are carried out three times a week, Maj. Charlie said. His responsibilities include helping plan missions and prepare flights, standardization of the A-10s and working closely with his Turkish hosts.
According to Maj. Charlie, the personnel have no opportunity to travel and he cannot go back to his home country, thus he is “stuck” on the base in his daily life. On the other hand, vendors provide local food, which introduces them to Turkish culture, he said.
Meanwhile, Germany has deployed six Tornados and a cargo Airbus 310 to Incirlik. German Air Force Chief Public Affairs Officer Andreas Berg said Tornado reconnaissance jets help to take aerial photographs, using both photo optical and infrared imagery. The German Air Force is seeking to orient the operation with tornados equipped with a pod containing high-resolution cameras for reconnaissance flights.
The Airbus 310 mainly helps with transporting tankers and providing refuelling support to coalition aircraft, he added. The cargo jet can stay in the air for up to 10 hours.
The German Air Force expects at least one flight a day, although their next missions have not been identified so far. Both the Turkish and American sides have warmly welcomed them, he stated.
Personnel ‘stuck’ in the base
While military movements at the base within the coalition’s fight against ISIL intensified after the deadly Paris attacks in November, the most significant change was military and civilian personnel who have been “stuck” in the base since July, said Kristine Verbeten, from the U.S. 39th Force Support Squadron.
Thus, life outside İncirlik seems to have been moved to the base and services offered to personnel are of high importance, said Verbeten, addressing reporters in an exclusive bus tour of Patriot Village, where airbase housing has been in place for the last 13 years.
Verbeten described these living spaces as “hardened housing” rather than tent cities. The Eagle Housing is reminiscent of American suburban neighborhoods. Less than 10 percent of the personnel were with family members hosted in U.S. housing, Verbeten added.
Largest contingency area in Europe
According to U.S. officials, İncirlik hosts around 1,300 American personnel and the largest contingency area in Europe.
One of the key buildings in the base, the hospital, has a ground floor that “cannot be destroyed even if the upper floors are bombed,” officials said.
Personnel from different forces gather in common areas such as the community center, which offers a theater, library and other facilities, as well as dining rooms such as the Sultan’s Inn, where around 50,000 meals are served monthly.
Patriot Village also includes a pool, gym, library, child development center, ballparks, a post office and markets selling most of American brands.
Additionally, a park hosting events ranging from rock concerts to resting activities, along with the Club Complex, with 12 rooms including cafes, a steak house and other common spaces, stand out as major facilities serving the personnel in Patriot Village.