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Thursday, 18 October, 2001, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Analysis: Turkey's pivotal position
US warplane prepares to take off from Incirlik
US plane prepares to take off from Incirlik
As the only Muslim member of Nato, and a country on the border of East and West, Turkey potentially has an important role to play in the military action against Afghanistan.

So far, the government has offered to help train and equip the forces fighting the Taleban, and has said it is ready to commit troops to a post-conflict peacekeeping force.

There have also been unconfirmed reports that Turkish special forces could play some role in a US-led ground offensive - though publicly Ankara has said it is reluctant to play a combat role.

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

Government statement

Turkey has already opened its airspace to US aircraft, and transport planes have been using the base at Incirlik for refuelling.

There are also reports that it has been supplying intelligence.

Its participation could help the US rebut allegations that it is engaged in a war against Islam.

Afghanistan's anti-Taleban Northern Alliance said last week that it favoured a force comprising moderate Muslim nations including Turkey, Jordan and Egypt.

A proposal has been floated for Turkey to contribute most, if not all, of the troops to a post-Taleban UN peacekeeping force which might help prop up a transitional government.

Public ambivalence

UN officials are reported to have dismissed this idea, but Turkey is nonetheless reported to be already preparing for some kind of peacekeeping role.

"Turkey favours the participation of its forces in maintaining peace," said Foreign Ministry spokesman, Huseyin Dirioz.

Bulent Ecevit
Ecevit: Contacts with Afghan opposition
The commander of a Turkish peacekeeping unit recently visited the US central command headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

Turkish troops have already taken part in international peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Bosnia - both with large Muslim populations.

Other reports say that Turkey could send two battalions of special forces at short notice, though the US has not made any formal requests for Turkish military support.

Last week the parliament approved the deployment of troops to join the strikes on Afghanistan, and also gave permission for foreign troops to be deployed in Turkey.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told the parliament that Turkey had long had contacts with Afghan opposition groups, especially the forces of General Rashid Dostum, and that it could help build them into an effective fighting force.

Observers have suggested, however, that the country's close ties with Dostum could complicate its relations with other opposition factions.

Turkey's firm support for a military response in Afghanistan does not extend to strikes against other states, such as Iraq, which some US officials have advocated.

And despite the government's pro-US position, opinion polls suggest that Turkish people are against Turkish involvement in military action against Afghanistan or against any of Turkey's Muslim neighbours.

See also:

22 Sep 01 | Europe
Turkey opens airspace to US
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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