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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Turkey opens airspace to US
US airforce plane prepares to take off from Incirlik
US airforce plane prepares to take off from Incirlik
By BBC's Nick Thorpe at the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey.

The Turkish Government has agreed to a US request to use its airspace and airports for any military response to last Tuesday's terror attacks.

As a Muslim country and frontline Nato member, Turkish strategic importance has grown significantly since last Tuesday.

There are about a dozen grey American and British fighter aircraft and transport planes standing in the shimmering heat on the runway at the Nato base at Incirlik.

They are used on a daily basis to patrol the no-fly zone over northern Iraq imposed after the Gulf War 10 years ago.

Turkey will increase the equipment, training and other assistance that it has been giving to the [anti-Taleban] Northern Alliance.

Government statement
But the importance of this base and of other civilian and military airports in Turkey could now grow.

As a Nato member, Turkey is obliged to play a full part in the military operations of the alliance.

So the letter to Washington from Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, in which he granted the use of Turkish airspace, is of primarily symbolic value.

Fragile relationship

Turkey's leaders are still hoping that any military response will be limited to Afghanistan.

The government has already offered the use of the Turkish army to train the anti-Taleban fighters of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

Turkish involvement would prove more difficult if targets in the Middle East are also chosen.

The base at Incirlik could then be expected to play a much bigger role, and Turkey's fragile relationship with the wider Muslim world would come under even greater strain.

The public in Turkey largely supports America as a victim.

But that support could easily turn to hostility if what are seen as innocent civilians in other Muslim countries get hurt.

See also:

17 Sep 01 | Business
Turkey rattled by conflict fears
22 Sep 01 | Americas
World pressure isolates Taleban
21 Sep 01 | Europe
EU leaders back US retaliation
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