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Loss of Turkish bases could prolong war, experts say

WASHINGTON—If Turkey does not let U.S. forces use Turkish bases for an invasion of Iraq, a war could become longer, more costly and riskier, military analysts said Thursday.

The Pentagon's battle plan calls for a main attack from Kuwait in the south and a second thrust from Turkey on the north. If Turkey does not allow the use of its bases, an armored task force assigned to attack from Turkey through northern Iraq would have to be reassigned to Kuwait. That could delay plans for the war to start in early March.

The United States is waiting for Turkey to say whether it will accept a multibillion-dollar aid package in exchange for access to bases and sea ports. Turkey is demanding additional compensation for the more than $30 billion in losses it says it accumulated during the 1991 Gulf War and for the subsequent economic crises that have plagued the country.

Opening a second front from Turkey into northern Iraq would divide Iraqi forces and get U.S. forces into the country faster.

"All you need to do is look at a map," said Harlan Ullman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to the much longer route to northern Iraq from Kuwait.

From Turkey, U.S. forces could get to the oil fields around the northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul more quickly to secure them before they could be destroyed by Iraqi troops or seized by Turkish forces or ethnic Kurds.

Turkey also fears that the Kurds, who now control a virtually independent enclave in northern Iraq, might declare an independent state and stir up rebellion by Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish parties that control the region say they have no intention of seeking independence, but want to be part of Iraq.

"They (the United States) have gotten more rather than less worried . . . about keeping the Kurds down and the Turks out," said John Pike, a military analyst with GlobalSecurity.org. "But basically all you need is a few brigades of American troops to have a visible show of force."

Turkey's refusal to allow the use of its territory wouldn't stop a war, said Jack Spencer, senior defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. "But that doesn't mean it's optimal."

Concentrating more American forces in Kuwait could create the military equivalent of a traffic jam and make the troops an easier target for biochemical and other types of attack, said Daniel Goure, an analyst with the Lexington Institute.

The United States also would rack up bigger fuel, transportation, ammunition and equipment costs in a protracted conflict, he said.

If Turkey doesn't allow the United States to use its territory, military planners could use intelligence now being collected by CIA and Special Forces operatives inside Iraq to help airlift or parachute lighter forces to seize airstrips.

The U.S. Air Force could then ferry in heavier ground forces, tanks and other armored vehicles and equipment using the new C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft which can land "almost anywhere that's flat and hard," including primitive runways and highways, military analyst Loren Thompson said.

"There are literally hundreds of potential places where the C-17 can land," he said. "Turkey would make life a lot easier for us but the remarkable thing about the American military is that it can do almost everything on its own today."

Military analysts and defense officials still expect to allow American forces to use its airbases and airspace. Some 4,000 Air Force personnel are stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 1,500 of whom are involved in Operation Northern Watch, which enforces the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

As thousands of U.S. troops sit on ships in the eastern Mediterranean, the planning continues for their possible coming-ashore in Turkey.

"We can absorb whatever they send us," said Capt. Aaron Dunn, a logistics readiness officer at Incirlik. "We're ready."

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(Knight Ridder correspondents Jonathan S. Landay and Mark McDonald contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030220 Turkey chrono

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-TURKEY

Iraq

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