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Turkey to Assume Peacekeeping Command in Afghanistan - 2002-04-29

Turkey says it will assume command of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. The Turkish government said in a statement it will be taking over command of the International Security Assistance Force from Britain for a period of six months.

Turkey's decision comes after lengthy negotiations with Britain and the United States. Turkey's decision is welcome news for the United States, in particular because the presence of Turkish troops in Afghanistan will help reinforce the U.S. argument that the campaign against terrorism is not aimed at Muslims.

Turkey is NATO's only predominantly-Muslim country, and its army is highly respected for discipline and combat skills honed during 15 years of war against Kurdish separatist guerrillas in the rugged mountains of Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast region.

Turkey had been pressing for several guarantees before accepting command of the Afghan peacekeeping force. These include demands that its mission be confined to Kabul and that financing for the Turkish operation be provided by international donors, because Turkey is struggling with its worst economic recession since 1945.

Turkey already has about 260 troops in Afghanistan and is expected to raise that number to around 1,000 when it takes command of the force sometime in June.

Observers say Turkish officials hope Turkey's presence in Afghanistan will boost the country's regional stature among the Muslim republics of former Soviet Central Asia, where Turkish officers have been helping train local troops fighting armed Islamic fundamentalist groups for the past two years. Turkey hopes such influence will encourage the energy-rich Central Asian states, notably Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, to export their vast oil supplies to European markets via Turkey.