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Air Operations Continue Despite Turkish Strike

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Aug. 12, 1998 – Air operations over northern Iraq continue despite a labor strike that has closed base services and restricted U.S. personnel throughout Turkey.

About 1,400 employees of a Turkish union struck July 23, demanding more pay and benefits. The strike affects more than 7,000 American military members, DoD civilian workers, contract employees and family members at installations in Ankara, Izmir, Incirlik Air Base and several smaller sites in Turkey.

Virtually everyone who works under the Turkish-U.S. base maintenance contract belongs to the striking union, an Air Force official explained. Union leaders are currently renegotiating a labor agreement with the U.S. Air Force.

Union members continue picketing at facilities throughout Incirlik Air Base, near Adana in southeastern Turkey. Turkish law permits unions to strike and gives striking workers access to their work sites to picket.

About 5,300 Americans are stationed at Incirlik, a Turkish air force facility that houses the U.S. Air Force 39th Wing and the 39th Air and Space Expeditionary Wing. The American units, along with British and French allies, enforce the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

Air Force officials say operations have not been disrupted by the strike. About 45 U.S. and allied aircraft continue to fly daily sorties as part of Operation Northern Watch. "Military operations have not suffered at all," DoD spokesman Ken Bacon said at the Pentagon Aug. 11.

People at Incirlik are operating under difficult circumstances, Bacon said. During the past month, they've endured two large earthquakes that caused $10 million in damage to the base. They've provided humanitarian support to the harder-hit areas in the region, and they've continued their Operation Northern Watch missions.

To avoid conflict with striking union members, Air Force officials have restricted travel to the local community to official business only. People who live off base, however, are allowed to travel back and forth. The officials also closed the main exchange, commissary, gas station, dining halls, restaurants and recreational facilities and have suspended housing maintenance and other support.

"We recognize the right of the union members to strike," said Air Force Col. Dutch Remkes, commander of the two wings at Incirlik. "But we will ensure that their rights do not conflict with the safety and security of people working and living at Incirlik Air Base."

Family member travel to Turkish duty stations was also suspended temporarily. Currently, however, families may move to Turkey with their sponsor dependent on family needs and the base's ability to support those needs, said Air Force Capt. Mike Paoli, an Incirlik Air Base spokesman. Families already in Turkey will remain -- he said the tone of current negotiations makes the need for contingency evacuations unlikely.

Wing officials have asked military and civilian employees to maintain calm and avoid situations that could result in violence. Turkish civilians have tried to block access to facilities and impede traffic, but no serious confrontations with strikers have occurred, Air Force officials said.

Some vandalism and harassment have occurred, but so far, they said, no incidents have escalated to the point that American citizens appear to be in danger.

Turkish and U.S. police are investigating an Aug. 1 incident reportedly involving several Turkish civilians who injured an airman while he was off base with his family. Air Force officials said there is no indication the assault was connected with the strike, but they immediately increased security at grocery stores and formed shopping teams that include U.S. and Turkish security forces.

Since the commissary closed, base officials have arranged for small groups to shop at an off-base Turkish supermarket each day in the company of U.S. military and Turkish national police. Field kitchens have been set up to feed service members supporting Operation Northern Watch.

Air Force officials said they are optimistic the strike will be resolved soon. "In the meantime," Paoli said, "the mission continues full swing and people are doing the best they can in an austere and sometimes frustrating environment."

To follow developments in Turkey, visit the Incirlik Air Base Web site at http://www.incirlik.af.mil/news/newspage.htm.

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