Patriot Missiles, AWACS Arrive in Turkey
Wed Feb 26, 2:06 PM ET
By SELCAN HACAOGLU, Associated Press Writer
ISKENDERUN, Turkey - Patriot missiles and AWACS surveillance aircraft arrived in Turkey on Wednesday, the first NATO (news - web sites) equipment deployed to defend Turkey against a possible attack in the event of an Iraq war.
The deployment follows a stormy debate in NATO in which France, Germany and Belgium blocked approval for a month, causing strains with the United States. The three said providing aid to Turkey would send the wrong signal while U.N. weapons inspections still hold out hope that Iraq can be disarmed peacefully.
The anti-missile system and surveillance aircraft were sent to protect Turkey - the only NATO nation bordering Iraq - from any Iraqi strike as the United States prepares to move 62,000 troops into Turkey that could be used to open up a northern front against Iraq.
Turkey asked NATO on Wednesday for more of the Patriot anti-missile batteries and equipment for protection against biological and chemical weapon attacks, alliance officials in Brussels said.
A Dutch ship unloaded the first ground-to-air missile battery in this eastern Mediterranean port city Wednesday. A second Dutch ship carrying more Patriots was expected to arrive in Iskenderun later Wednesday, said Sgt. Maj. Heino Norp of the Dutch military. The third and last battery will arrive by sea on Friday, he said.
The missile batteries will be driven to Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeastern Turkey and home to a large air base that is expected to host U.S. warplanes during a possible war on Iraq.
Patriots, which intercept missiles in flight, were also stationed in Diyarbakir, a city of almost a million, during the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites).
More than 200 of the 370 Dutch Air Force troops that will operate the systems also arrived in Turkey on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, two AWACS surveillance planes, originally based in Germany, landed in the central Anatolian city of Konya Wednesday, said a military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. The radar aircraft can monitor hundreds of miles of airspace and are the first of five or six that are expected to be deployed to patrol the skies over Turkey.
The AWACS are manned by multinational crews from the 12 NATO nations that jointly operate them.
NATO has been careful to point out that the planes' mission is defensive and they will not participate in any attack on Iraq.
Meanwhile, more than 500 U.S. military trucks and jeeps remained idle at Iskenderun as Washington waited for Turkey's parliament to decide on allowing in U.S. combat troops for an Iraq operation.
The trucks and jeeps have been unloaded over the past week, but have not been moved out of the port. Parliament had been expected to vote last week on a proposal that would allow in 62,000 U.S. combat troops to open a northern front against Iraq. There is strong opposition in Turkey to a war in Iraq and the vote has been delayed despite intense U.S. pressure. A vote was not expected before Thursday.
U.S. soldiers in fatigues but bearing no guns were seen checking the vehicles Wednesday.
A new transport ship, the USNS Capella, docked at the port Tuesday. Trucks were seen on its deck, but the ship only unloaded a few trucks and containers on Wednesday.
Some 40 other ships are still at sea, carrying tanks and other armor for the 4th Infantry Division, which would spearhead a northern assault into Iraq. The northern front would help split the Iraqi army between the north and the Persian Gulf and is a key part of the U.S. war strategy.