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Turkey Willing to Participate in Peacekeeping in Afghanistan - 2001-10-17

Turkey says it is willing to take part in any international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, once the U.S.-led military strikes targeting Taleban forces and suspected terrorists come to an end. The announcement follows calls from exiled Afghan King Zahir Shah for Turkish troops to take part in such a force.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz told reporters that Turkey had - in his words - positively evaluated likely requests for Turkish troops to take part in an international peace keeping force in Afghanistan.

Mr. Dirioz pointed out that Turkish troops already have peacekeeping experience in the Balkans and Somalia.

Turkey, a predominantly Muslim and officially secular country, has historic and ethnic links with Afghanistan, which date back to the early 1900s. That is when Turkish forces trained members of the newly formed Afghan army. Today, Turkish forces are training members of the opposition Northern Alliance, who are fighting Taleban forces for control of Afghanistan.

News reports say the Northern Alliance favors a peacekeeping force comprising moderate Muslim nations, including Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey.

Exiled former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah has reportedly expressed his desire in recent days to see Turkish forces taking part in an eventual peace force in Afghanistan.

Turkey is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's only predominately Muslim member and has offered its strong support for the U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism.

Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks against Washington and New York, Turkey opened its skies and bases to U.S. military aircraft. It also said it would share what analysts describe as Turkey's vast intelligence about Afghanistan.

Last week, Turkey's parliament granted the government wide-ranging powers to send Turkish troops abroad. But recent opinion polls show that the vast majority of Turks are opposed to Turkish military intervention in Afghanistan.