DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Oct. 8 (UPI)
The U.S. Air Force began staging small detachments of airmen and aircraft in Turkey to support personnel recovery missions in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. Air Force has maintained a working relationship with its counterpart in Turkey, a NATO ally. U.S. Airmen stationed at the Diyarbakir Air Base, home to the Turkish air force's 8th Air Wing, are assigned to assist with the recovery of coalition personnel in the event they need assistance. The Airmen come from the 435th Contingency Response Group, part of the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing. Lt. Col. Ryan Barney, 435th CRG element commander, says the unit's mission is to "get in and out."
"The unique thing about this mission is the 435th CRG were the first troops on the ground; and we really depended on everyone and the defenders deployed with us for security as the building began," Barney said.
The unit arrived in August to begin building operating bases, and brought in some 680 tons of equipment.
"When the 435th CRG first arrived, there was nothing but a grassy field and a lot of boulders," Barney said. "By providing airfield ops, combat support and training, security, construction and mobile aircraft support, that field is now a 'bare base' and ready for the follow-on force to arrive."
The deployment comes as Turkish government officials grow more concerned with Russian operations in Syria, following recent violations of Turkish airspace. Russia continued its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by initiating airstrikes, purportedly against the Islamic State, Sunni militants also identified as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.
Tanju Bilgiç, spokesperson of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement on the matter on Wednesday.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey strongly protested the violations of the Turkish airspace by the Russian Federation on 3 and 4 October 2015 to the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Ankara," the statement read.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the incursions, calling them "deliberate," a view shared by U.S. officials.
"I call on Russia to avoid escalating tensions with the alliance. Russia must de-conflict its military activities in Syria. I'm also concerned that Russia is not targeting [the Islamic State], but instead attacking the Syrian opposition and civilians."