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Turkey Agrees 'in Principle' to Take Over Kabul Force - 2002-03-30

Turkey on Friday announced that it had agreed in principle to take over command of the international peace keeping force in Afghanistan. The decision follows weeks of intense talks between Turkish, U.S. and British officials over the future of the Afghan peace keeping mission.

The announcement was made by the country's National Security Council, where Turkey's political and military leaders shape national policy. In a carefully worded statement the council affirmed that Turkey had in principle decided to take over command of the force from Britain when its term expires next month. But the statement emphasized the importance of fully meeting Turkey's conditions before it takes charge. Turkey had in recent weeks been dragging its feet on taking charge saying it wants watertight guarantees of financial and logistical support for its troops as well the participation of other NATO member nations in the peace keeping contingent. These and another key condition, that Turkey not be responsible for finding a successor once its own six-month term expires, have apparently been met now by the U.S. as well as Britain, which is eager to hand over command to the Turks.

Western diplomats say Turkey's strategic value as a long time and loyal Western ally will be re-inforced by its military presence in Afghanistan.

Turkey has long been tipped as the most likely successor to Britain in commanding the 4,500 member international peace keeping force known as ISAF. Afghan interim leader, Hamid Karzai who is due in Turkey on an official visit next week has welcomed Turkey's role.

Turkey already has some 260 troops in Afghanistan and has actively supported the U.S.-led campaign against Taleban forces and the al-Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan.