U.S. set to revamp war plans as Turkey balks

Thursday, February 20, 2003

The U.S. military is preparing to revise its war plans unless Turkey approves the immediate deployment of up to 40,000 American combat troops by the weekend.

U.S. officials said the Joint Chiefs of Staff has warned the Bush administration that it cannot sustain the current naval deployment off the Turkish coast for more than a few days. At least four U.S. naval ships have been waiting outside Turkish territorial waters and another 20 to 30 ships have been sent to join them.

A U.S. defense official said a Turkish refusal would result in the diversion of the two U.S. Army divisions to Kuwait. The official said the absence of a northern front would allow Iraq to concentrate its Republican Guard force in southern Iraq.

Officials said Turkey must decide by Friday whether to accept the U.S. ships. If Turkey refuses to allow the U.S. ships to unload, they said, the ships must be moved elsewhere, which would require a complete revision of war plans. The officials said the military has already prepared contingency plans.

"It's doable and there are work-arounds," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who would decide on revising deployment plans, said.

Officials said the Turkish refusal to approve the deployment of combat troops has affected the 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas. Most of the division has remained in the United States because Ankara has not provided the green light for the unit's 20,000 troops to land in Turkey.

The 4th Infantry Division and elements of the 1st Infantry Division have been designated to deploy along the Iraqi-Turkish border.

"There are important decisions that need to be made very soon," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Officials said the ships cannot remain stranded in the eastern Mediterranean and could be soon ordered to the Gulf. They cited the threat of insurgency attacks as well as the need to maintain the buildup in the Persian Gulf.

"Time is moving, but I don't have a deadline I'd like to announce right now," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday. "We are waiting to hear back from the Turks. I think they understand the importance of this issue to us and to our efforts and they've got it under consideration now."

[In Ankara, Turkish Economic Minister Ali Babacan said on Thursday that the government would decide on U.S. military deployment in the country within the next few days.]

On Thursday, the Washington Times reported that the planned U.S.-led war against Iraq has been delayed because of difficulties in obtaining international support. The newspaper said U.S. military planners are examining the prospect of launching such a war in the middle of March.

Officials said Turkey wants a $32 billion compensation package to participate in any war against Iraq. The Bush administration has offered Ankara $6 billion in grants and billions more in loan guarantees. Ankara has requested $10 billion in grants, which the administration has rejected.

The administration has already agreed to Turkey's demand that its troops deployed in northern Iraq would not come under direct U.S. command. Officials said Washington has also steadily increased its aid offer to Ankara to participate in the war against Iraq.

Turkey had been regarded as constituting a key second front for any war against Iraq. Military planners envisioned U.S. forces quickly seizing Iraqi oil fields and military bases in northern Iraq that would allow for an armored offensive against Baghdad.

"It [Turkey] is desirable, from a strategic point of view, for any military staging," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "But the military of the United States is sufficiently flexible that whatever decision is made, the United States will still be successful in carrying out any military operations."

Jordan is meant to serve as a base for special forces operations in western Iraq to stop the launch of medium-range Scud missiles against Israel or Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia rejected the use of its territory for any ground invasion of Iraq.

On Wednesday, a U.S. naval ship unloaded 522 military vehicles in the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun. Turkish television reported that the vehicles included army trucks, radio transmission vehicles and troop transporters and arrived as part of a project to modernize Turkish bases and ports.

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