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Turkey to Open Airspace and Airports to US Warplanes - 2001-09-22

Turkey says it will open its airspace and airports to U.S. military planes as the United States prepares for an eventual military response to terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said he had granted permission for American planes to use Turkish airspace and airports if necessary. The announcement follows two days of intensive meetings in which Turkey's government leaders and senior generals debated Turkey's contribution to a likely U.S. military campaign against Afghanistan.

A Saudi millionaire turned militia chief, Ossama bin Laden, is the prime suspect in the attacks and is based in Afghanistan

Turkey, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's only Muslim member, provides bases for U.S. and British warplanes which patrol the no-fly zone over Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Turkey is also Israel's closest regional ally.

In his statement opening Turkish airspace to possible U.S. military action against Afghanistan, Mr. Ecevit said it would also be useful for Turkey and the United States to exchange intelligence about northern Afghanistan which is controlled by the opposition Northen Alliance.

Mr. Ecevit said Turkey is ready to train Afghan opposition forces who are seeking to wrest control of their country from the Taleban militia.

The Turkish prime minister had hinted earlier that Turkey may contribute to the continuing U.S. military build up in the region but declined to specify what form Turkey's contribution would take. Mr. Ecevit said the United States had so far not sought his government's military involvement.