A team of U.S. military personnel has arrived in Turkey to inspect Turkish military bases for possible use in a war against Iraq. Washington is asking its NATO ally for permission to allow tens of thousands of American troops to use its territory for an invasion of Iraq from the north, if President Bush decides to go to war.
One of the biggest uncertainties facing the Pentagon as it plans for a possible war against Iraq is whether Turkey will allow as many as 80,000 soldiers to use the long Turkish-Iraqi border as a northern front of attack.
"The U.S. has asked for the use of different facilities in Turkey and for the stationing, certainly temporary stationing, of a certain number of different types of forces in Turkey," Turkish Ambassador to Washington Faruk Logoglu said. U.S. military officials won't confirm the numbers. But Turkey says some 150 U.S. military personnel arrived in the country Monday amid ongoing discussions between Washington and Ankara about the use of Turkish bases.
Turkey has already given the United States permission to use its air bases in the event of war, provided the U.N. Security Council first approves military action.
But U.S. military planners also want the option of moving ground troops into Iraq from the north, a move that, in addition to an invasion from Kuwaiti-based forces in the south, would surround the Iraqi capital Baghdad from both directions.
During the first Gulf War, Turkish-based U.S. fighter jets flew sorties over Iraq and Turkey continues to serve as a base for allied jets enforcing Iraq's northern no fly zone. But public opinion in the overwhelmingly Muslim country is running heavily against another gulf war. The issue is confronting the Turkish government with a sensitive decision just two months after it swept into power on a populist platform.
"They're taking a lot of political exposure on our behalf," said retired U.S. ambassador Hume Horan who has served throughout the Arab world.
They probably would want it to happen as quickly as possible too, to get it over with. Of course, if we had troops stationed up there in the north, that would help us in such a way that we could perhaps get a campaign over with much faster.
To get Turkey to say 'yes' to the U.S. request, Washington is offering Ankara a range of incentives including an infusion of economic aid which some reports say could total as much as $15 billion.
Turkey could use the help as the country tries to recover from its worst recession in decades. Turkey's ambassador in Washington suggests Ankara will soon face a choice of siding with the strong anti-war sentiment of the Turkish public or accepting U.S. offers of aid in exchange for allowing American troops to use Turkish bases.
"Turkey is going to face very severe consequences because of a war in Iraq. What Turkey is asking for is compensation for the negative effects of a potential of military action against Iraq," said Ambassador Logoglu.
A final decision on whether American troops can use Turkish territory will have to come from the Turkish parliament, which won't take up the matter until after U.N. weapons inspectors provide a report to the Security Council January 27.