4-star generals protest Turkish-US meeting

Turkey's four-star generals, including Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Ergin Saygun, have reportedly declined to participate in the annual four-day American-Turkish Council meeting in reaction to US criticism of the Turkish military's ground offensive

4-star generals protest Turkish-US meeting
Turkey's four-star generals, including Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Ergin Saygun, have reportedly declined to participate in the annual four-day American-Turkish Council (ATC) meeting, which started in Washington yesterday, in reaction to US criticism of the Turkish military's ground offensive into northern Iraq in late February.

Well-informed sources have told Today's Zaman that the Turkish military will be represented at the three-star level and below, including Lt. Gen. Hilmi Akın Zorlu, the head of the Planning and Principles Department of the Turkish General Staff, who is in charge of military procurement planning.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan will also not be taking part in the meetings, during which US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will make the keynote speech on April 15.

This is the first time a US secretary of state will deliver a speech to an ATC meeting. During these meetings, Turkish-US relations on military, economic and political issues are discussed with the aim of furthering cooperation between the two NATO allies, the same sources said.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan should have attended the meeting with Rice delivering a speech, said a government source.

Amid mounting US criticism of its incursion into northern Iraq in pursuit of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, the Turkish General Staff announced that, as of Feb. 29, it had withdrawn its forces back inside the Turkish border.

The announcement of the Turkish withdrawal, not expected for another week or so, followed soon after US President George W Bush's call on Feb. 28 for Turkey to "move quickly, achieve [the] objective and get out."

The General Staff said the timing of the operation had been governed by military requirements and was not subject to any external influences. However, the proximity of the Turkish withdrawal and the US criticism triggered a bitter war of words between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the opposition parties, which criticized the former for acting under US pressure.

The US has been extending real-time intelligence support to Turkey for its operations in northern Iraq. This intelligence has been vital for Turkey's ability to accurately locate PKK hideouts. However, worried about the possibility that a ground operation could get out of control, further complicating US efforts in Iraq as a whole, the US urged Turkey to withdraw its troops from the region.

Despite the absence of four-star generals, as well as Foreign Minister Babacan, from the meeting, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, State Minister for Foreign Trade Kürşad Tüzmen and State Minister for Economic Affairs Mehmet Şimşek, as well as Murad Bayar, the head of the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), will attend the ATC meeting.

The ATC was established 27 years ago to boost Turkish-US military ties. Since then Ankara-Washington relations have concentrated on the Turkish purchase of US equipment as well as ongoing US military training programs for Turkish officers. However, in the past decade both sides have intensified efforts to expand their relations to include the economic sphere.

ATC to create forum for problematic areas

The US has reportedly been upset over the recent Turkish refusal to send combat troops to Afghanistan, though in public Washington has acted as if it understands the constraints preventing Turkey from sending troops for combat purposes.

Ankara has said that it is already committed to too many peacekeeping operations throughout the world -- including Afghanistan, where it has over 750 troops in the Kabul area -- in addition to the deployment of a high number of troops in Turkey's southeast to fight the PKK.

But in private discussions, the US has expressed its displeasure over the Turkish refusal to send combat troops to Afghanistan. This issue is expected to be discussed again on the sidelines of the ATC meeting. However, it is not expected that the US will stop supplying Turkey with real-time intelligence over the Afghanistan issue.

Used Cobras not available

Ongoing Turkish-US problems stemming from Turkey's military procurement policies are also expected to occupy the ATC agenda.

With the start of air offensives inside northern Iraq in December of last year coupled with the controversial ground operations, the TSK has sought US delivery of used Cobra attack helicopters. But since that time the US has not been able to meet the Turkish request, saying the equipment was not available.

However, it is understood that part of the reason for the US refusal to deliver Cobras to Turkey is Ankara's decision to opt for Italian firm AgustaWestland to meet its attack helicopter requirements, comprising about 50 vehicles initially. Due to the SSM's tough contract terms and conditions, as perceived by Washington, US companies could not compete in Turkey's attack helicopter tender, which was worth around $2.5 billion.

"Turkey did not soften the contract terms and conditions of its attack helicopter tender to allow US companies to compete. Now they have chosen the Italians, but ask for 15 used Cobras from the US as an interim solution. This policy is neither acceptable nor understandable," a US-based defense industry representative says.

Another fight between Turkey and the US appears to be on the horizon, with the SSM getting closer to choosing a firm for its $4 billion acquisition of a long-range missile defense system composed of 12 firing units.

US Raytheon and Lockheed Martin teamed in the project, offering Patriot systems, while Ankara has been urging Russia to compete with S-400 systems. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned Ankara over interoperability problems that might arise within NATO if Turkey opts for Russian systems.

Last Mod: 15 Nisan 2008, 07:36
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