U.S. ends military mission in Turkey, ties under review

Friday, May 2, 2003

ANKARA The United States has shut down its last military mission in Turkey as part of a major realignment of forces in the region.

The U.S. military formally ended Operation Northern Watch in a ceremony on Thursday at the Incerlik air force base in southern Turkey. The base held 50 U.S. fighter-jets that had enforced the ban on Iraqi air missions in northern Iraq.

U.S. officials said the United States has withdrawn all of its combat aircraft from Incerlik. Another 1,400 air force personnel have also left Turkey.

"After 12 years of very successful coalition operations, we were able to contain a regime that was despicable and dangerous both for the people of Iraq and the surrounding region," Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, said in the ceremony at Incerlik.

The U.S. withdrawal from Turkey came less than two months after Washington proposed a long-term military agreement for the stationing of up to 62,000 American troops in the NATO ally. The troops would have helped form a second front in the war against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and later help stabilize that country.

But Turkey rejected the U.S. offer and since then the Bush administration has been reviewing its relations with Ankara. Officials said the first step has been the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Turkey.

U.S. soldiers will remain in Turkey under the NATO umbrella. About 1,400 U.S. soldiers serve in the NATO mission.

The administration has acknowledged that Turkey's refusal to help establish a second front against Iraq extended the war. Officials said Turkey committed a major mistake and Washington has not ruled out a reduction in relations.

President George Bush has asked Congress to allocate $1 billion in emergency aid for Turkey in fiscal 2004. But Congress has sought to add a list of conditions to the aid.

"There are some in Washington who want to be assured that certain commitments remain the same, that the Turkish-U.S. strategic partnership is still viewed as a strategic alliance that is worth working for," Rep. Robert Wexler, a leading member of Congress, said after meeting with Turkish leaders.

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