Security heightened at U.S. bases in Turkey

Monday, July 21, 2003

ANKARA The United States has ordered an increase in security measures to protect its troops in military bases in Turkey.

Turkish government sources said the U.S. military command has relayed warnings that soldiers should limit their movement outside of bases. They said the command has raised the prospect that U.S. soldiers could come under attack in Turkey amid military tension between Ankara and Washington.

On July 4, a U.S. military force raided a Turkish office in northern Iraq and captured 24 Turkish nationals, 11 of them members of the Turkish Special Forces Command. After 48 hours characterized by protests throughout Turkey, the United States released the Turks, Middle East Newsline reported.

But the sources said the U.S. military still fears the prospect of a backlash against the more than 1,000 soldiers in Turkey. Most of the U.S. soldiers are based in the Incerlik air base in southern Turkey.

The Ankara-based Hurriyet daily reported on July 12 that the U.S. military has ordered all of the 400 soldiers at Incerlik to remain in the base from 9 p.m. until the following morning. The newspaper said the U.S. military has also raised the security alert at Incerlik.

The sources said Turkey has also relayed a proposal to the United States to send a military force to southern Iraq. They said the proposal calls for a brigade-size mission that will help in the stabilization of Basra and surrounding region.

On Friday, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid arrives in Ankara as part of an effort to improve cooperation and coordination between the militaries of the two countries. Abizaid will discuss the tensions in northern Iraq in wake of the capture of 24 Turkish military personnel on July 4 in Suleimaniya.

Earlier this week, the two countries issued a statement meant to resolve the tensions. But Turkish officials have expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. refusal to apologize for the Suleimaniya episode.

Turkey has linked the continuation of its military presence in Iraq to the end of the Kurdish insurgency threat.

Officials said the Turkish military and government Prime Minister Recep Erdogan have agreed to reject any U.S. appeal for a withdrawal of an estimated 4,000 Turkish troops from northern Iraq. They said Ankara has also rejected any commitment for a gradual withdrawal of troops from the region.

"Allegations saying that Turkey and the United States have reached consensus on gradual withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from northern Iraq are totally baseless," Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said. "If terrorist groups in Iraq are not allowed to stage operations, then it is unnecessary for Turkish soldiers to have a presence in the region."

Officials said the PKK, also known by their new name Kadek, has 5,000 combatants in northern Iraq. They said the PKK has been bolstered by new recruits, finances and weapons over the last three months.

Gul leaves for Washington this week and will meet senior Bush administration officials. They include Vice President Richard Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Turkey has offered to send a force to the southern region around Basra to help in the stabilization of Iraq. Officials said this was the subject of discussion between Turkish military and political leaders with U.S. Central Command chief General John Abizaid, who arrived on Friday in Ankara. Abizaid was joined by Gen. James Jones, supreme allied commander of U.S. forces in NATO.

"During the meeting between Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok and U.S. Central Command Chief Gen. John Abizaid, measures that could be taken on the issues of cooperation and coordination in order to prevent events like detention of Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq, were addressed," a General Staff statement said on Saturday.

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