The top U.S. military commander in Europe says being able to invade Iraq from Turkey would be strategically advantageous but that the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow U.S. troops to be stationed on its territory will not derail U.S. plans. General James Jones also says he wants to overhaul the U.S. network of bases in Europe and make them more responsive to new challenges like terrorism.
General Jones, a former commandant of the Marines, says U.S. military planners are considering alternatives if the Turkish parliament remains steadfast in its rejection of a U.S. deployment. But he says he still hopes U.S. troops will be able to open a northern front to tie down Iraqi forces.
General Jones, who recently took command of U.S. forces in Europe and is also NATO's top military commander, told reporters at U.S. military headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, that stationing U.S. soldiers in Turkey would force Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to concentrate his troops in both northern and southern Iraq.
Although I don't think it is absolutely a show-stopper in terms of whether we have a northern front or not, but to have a presence along the northern part of Iraq would definitely have a military advantage of fixing his [Saddam Hussein's] forces, he said. And he'd have to pay more attention to the north rather than be able to concentrate his forces to the defense of the south or any other direction that he might think we could be coming from.
The United States has massed more than 100,000 troops in areas south of Iraq in preparation for action against Saddam Hussein. Washington and Ankara had struck a deal for 62,000 U.S. troops to be deployed in Turkey, but the accord failed to muster enough support in the Turkish parliament.
Despite intense ongoing negotiations between Turkish and U.S. officials, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul refused to say Monday whether his government will again ask Parliament to approve a U.S. troop deployment.
General Jones also sought to reassure Germany that Washington's plans to scale down its military presence in the country and in the rest of Western Europe is not related to Berlin's fierce opposition to a U.S.-led war against Iraq.
Whatever we're doing is not in any way connected with the current political situation as regards Iraq, he said. This should never in any way be characterized as a knee-jerk reaction to a disagreement at the political level.
General Jones says, though plans are still in the conceptual stage, it is Washington's intention to move away from big garrison-type bases. Those large bases date back to the Cold War, and include housing, schools and hospitals. They would be replaced with more flexible forward-staging bases where troops can rotate in for shorter periods. The idea, he says, is to have the capability to react quickly to new threats and, at the same time, be more cost-efficient.
The general says it will probably take up to two years for the new basing strategy to go into effect.