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US to Bypass Turkey in Iraq Weapons Withdrawal

The chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, addresses the media during a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, 04 Sep 2010

The chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, is visiting NATO member Turkey. Relations between the two allies have been strained following Ankara's vote against new U.N. Iranian sanctions and rising tensions between Turkey and Israel, two other key allies of Washington.

Admiral Mullen is visiting Turkey to meet with his newly appointed Turkish counterpart General Isik Kosaner. But his visit comes at critical time for U.S. armed forces. Turkey, which borders Iraq, is seen as important to the U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East nation.

During his visit, Admiral Mullen met with the Turkish defense minister, Vecdi Gonul. Speaking at a news conference, Admiral Mullen said he expected the U.S. to transport non-military elements and technical material via Turkey.

"My expectation's will be, if they come out as currently planned, over the next year plus, that they will do so, as we have brought other troops and equipment out, did not include any combat capability or combat troops through Turkey," he said.

The use of Turkish territory by U.S. forces is a sensitive subject. Turkey's refusal to allow U.S. forces to invade Iraq from its territory in 2003 marked a low point in bilateral relations.

Mullen's visit come as bilateral relations are again strained over Ankara vote against new U.N. sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program. But Mullen was keen to stress the important role Turkey will play enforcing sanctions against its neighbor.

"The enforcement of sanctions is very important and Turkey is doing that, and that will be a critical part as we move ahead," he said.

Turkey is also critical to U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Some NATO allies have been critical of Ankara not allowing its forces to engage the Taliban. But Mullen says Turkey continues to play a vital role, particularly in training Afghan government troops. The U.S. admiral appealed to Turkey for more assistance.

"In particular the Turkish trainers, who've trained the Afghan police have performed magnificently and more broadly any additional capability Turkey can provide against the training shortfall that we have, would certainly be of great help," he said.

Analysts say the Admiral Mullen's visit is unlikely to resolve any of the ongoing differences between Washington and Ankara. But it does signal the importance of the cooperation between the two nations.