Turkey is first Muslim country to send troops

War on Terrorism: Coalition
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The Independent Online

Turkey, Nato's sole Muslim member, is to send a special anti-guerrilla mountain warfare unit to Afghanistan to work with US troops and aid anti-Taliban fighters.

With opinion surveys showing Turks oppose sending their men to fight in an Islamic land, the decision by the pro-Western government was a bold one, which could pay off in badly needed financial aid in one of Turkey's bleakest economic moments.

Turkey would become the first Muslim country to join the US-led military campaign by sending 90 special forces troops in the war against Kabul's Taliban rulers and Osama bin Laden, who suspected of orchestrating the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

"It is not a war of the United States. It does not belong to the United States alone," Foreign Minister Ismail Cem told CNN international. "This is our war, it is Turkey's war as well."

"This is not a war against Islam," Cem said. "Terrorism has no religion ... (or) geography."

However, such deployment could spur protests in Turkey, where polls suggest more than 80 percent of Turks oppose troop deployment in Afghanistan. Some Turks are uncomfortable with attacking another Muslim country, but most fear that the war could spread to Iraq and then to Turkey, deepening an already crippling economic crisis.

Police in Istanbul used tear gas and nightsticks to break up a group of leftist university students who chanted anti-U.S. slogans and condemned the attacks against Afghanistan. Police detained 50 students.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said it was inevitable that Turkey join a war against terror, and he told reporters that "friendly and allied countries which recognize Turkey's importance will, of course, take Turkey's needs into consideration" when it comes time for loan requests.

An International Monetary Fund delegation is due in Ankara this weekend as part of monitoring of the government's economic recovery measures.

At home, Turkey has fought radical Islamic and leftist militant groups.

"It is (Turkey's) natural duty to participate in the front lines ... along with our friend and ally, the United States," Ecevit said.

Turkish troops could take part in combat against the Taliban, train opposition fighters and support humanitarian aid operations. They would also conduct reconnaissance missions as well as protect and evacuate civilians.

Turkey's special forces are experienced in guerrilla warfare after fighting Kurdish rebels for more than 15 years in mountainous southeast Turkey.

Ecevit said the force would head to the region as soon as possible to take up positions in northern Afghanistan and work in close coordination with U.S. troops in the area.

Some analysts, like the premier, contended that Turkey's contribution could earn it much-needed foreign loans.

"As long as Turkey takes part in the campaign alongside the West, it will be easier for it to acquire the loans," said Behic Gurcihan at the Istanbul-based National Strategic Studies Institute.

Said political analyst Huseyin Bagci at Ankara's Middle East Technical University: "The loans issue will become easier, but it is a side-effect."

Bagci also said military involvement would helps Turkey's lobbying of the U.S. Congress to block a resolution that would recognize the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide. Turkey says the figure is inflated and that the Armenians died during civil war as Istanbul's Ottoman empire fell apart.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have offered loans of dollars 15.7 billion. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism have dimmed Turkey's prospects of recovering through exports and tourism, and Ankara is seeking loans of up to dlrs 9 billion to sustain the program next year.

Turkey's siding with the West reflects its desire to be part of the Western world. Turkey has a long-standing application to join the European Union. If some day accepted, Turkey would become the first Muslim nation to join the bloc.

However, building bridges with the West could destroy ties with Islamic countries who are already irritated by Turkey's secular regime.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry sent letters to Islamic countries to explain its decision.

In the streets, there was some uneasiness over Turkey's decision.

"America isn't there to create peace," said shopkeeper Muslim Kaygisiz. "I wouldn't mind seeing Turks in a peacekeeping force ... but why should we clean up their mistakes? They virtually created bin Laden, he was their tool for years against the Russians."

Said kebab vendor Suleyman Karakoc: "Turkish soldiers will do a good job. But I can't decide if it's a job they should be doing."

Turkey's contribution is the latest sign that allied forces are preparing for a sustained campaign of surprise raids by small, elite units. Britain, Australia and Canada are sending special forces to fight alongside U.S. troops, and France is considering a similar contribution.

Turkey has long had contacts with Afghan opposition groups, especially the forces of Gen. Rashid Dostum, one of the Northern Alliance leaders. Dostum's fighters are largely Uzbeks, a group that has close ethnic links with Turks. The Taliban are mostly ethnic Pashtun.

Turkey has also expressed its desire to be part of a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan in the future.

Transport aircraft taking part in the U.S.-led operation are using Turkey's southern Incirlik air base. The base is also a staging point for patrols above northern Iraq by U.S. planes.