U.S. halts base modernization program in Turkey

Thursday, March 6, 2003

ANKARA The United States has suspended work at several Turkish air bases and sea ports that were part of a $300 million modernization project. Turkey's chief of staff for the first time warned that Turkey could be hurt by not assisting the U.S. in the war against Iraq.

The U.S. Army ordered the suspension in wake of the Turkish parliament's rejection of a government request to allow the deployment of 62,000 U.S. troops in Turkey.

Turkish sources said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction at such bases as Batman, Diyarbakir and Incerlik. The work was also stopped at the sea ports of Iskenderun, Mersin and Tasucu.

On Wednesday, Turkey's media reported that authorities prevented a U.S. ship loaded with military supplies from docking in the port of Mersin. The Turkish move on Tuesday was the first time authorities prevented the entry of a U.S. ship into the country since the parliamentary vote on Saturday.

The U.S. ship was forced to leave Turkish territorial waters, the Milliyet daily reported. At least 10 U.S. ships are waiting in the eastern Mediterranean for permission to dock in Turkish ports.

On Wednesday, Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok voiced his first warning that Turkey could be hurt by not cooperating with the United States in the war against Iraq. Ozkok said Turkey would not receive any compensation for damages from the war. The United States said its $10 billion compensation package was dependent on the deployment of American troops in Turkey.

Last month, Turkey agreed to the entry of more than 3,000 U.S. Army personnel to carry out the modernization effort to enable the rapid processing of troops and heavy equipment through the country and to the Iraqi border. The U.S. Defense Department had conducted a survey of which Turkish facilities were suitable for modernization.

"Everything is on hold until the question of the U.S. deployment in Turkey is resolved," a Turkish source said. "I think the Americans are waiting for another parliamentary vote on the issue."

[On Wednesday, Pentagon and military officials played down the importance of Turkey in U.S. war plans. They said the military had planned to deploy in Turkey only several thousand troops. "What they [Turkey] may ultimately decide remains to be seen," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "In any event, we have work-arounds. We are in a position to provide a military option."]

The semi-official Anatolia news agency reported U.S. military activity has dropped significantly over the last few days. The agency said traffic at Incerlik air force base and the at Iskenderun port has dropped to a level that existed before U.S. preparations to deploy the military in Turkey.

"The Turkish armed forces view is the same as the government's and is reflected in the motion our government sent to parliament," Ozkok said in a statement that was hailed by several political leaders. "The war will be short if a second front is opened from the north."

"Turkey is not capable of preventing the war on its own," Ozkok said. "Our choice is between bad and worse."

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