- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

GEILENKIRCHEN, Germany, Feb. 26 (UPI) — NATO sent Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft, known as AWACS, to Turkey Wednesday to protect that country's air space in the event of a U.S.-led attack on neighboring Iraq.

The aircraft, Boeing-707s equipped with special radar and electronics equipment, left their German base at Geilenkirchen, near the Dutch border, for Konya in central Anatolia. The move was controversial because German NATO crew members were among those manning the planes in spite of Germany's reluctance to support a possible war on Iraq.

The German government has ruled out providing further military aid to fellow NATO member Turkey. Government spokesman Thomas Steg said Germany had made its contribution and that now it was up to other alliance countries to do their part.

Patriot air defense missile systems from Germany have also arrived in Iskenderun in southern Turkey, but they will be manned by Dutch military.

Officers at a NATO news briefing on Monday confirmed that initially just two aircraft would be employed but that the number was expected to double. All 17 of NATO's AWACS are based in Germany and about 30 percent of their crews are German.

German Air Force Maj. Gen. Johann Dora, before leaving for Turkey, said the mission near the Iraqi border would be purely defensive for the time being and would be subject to peace time regulations.

The AWACs would be patrolling the Turkish skies starting later this week, Dora said.

NATO's first multinational flying unit is capable not only of air surveillance, but also serving as a control platform to pinpoint aerial targets in combat missions.

The AWACS deployment followed last week's compromise reached at crisis talks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, for a package of measures requested by Turkey to boost its defenses. The Defense Planning Committee agreed to the preventive deployment of AWACS as well as NATO support for deployment of the Patriot defense missiles and the supply of chemical and biological defense equipment.

France, Germany and Belgium had blocked NATO from initiating military planning to assist Turkey's defense, arguing that it would send the wrong signal while diplomacy continued to seek to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

As well as providing early detection of enemy air activity, AWACS coordinate friendly aircraft involved in interception or attack. They do not carry weapons and are usually accompanied by fighter jets.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Gary A. Winterberger, NATO commander at Geilenkirchen, told United Press International: "The radar can extend far enough out to meet the threat if it has to; that's what they're there for, to look out so that before the threat arrives you can position forces in the way."

Flying at 29,000 feet, AWACS can ascertain the nature of a potential threat. One NATO officer at Geilenkirchen defined their purpose in Turkey as being aware of the situation in and around Iraq and getting an "air picture" of southeastern Turkey.

The AWACS aircraft can continuously scan more than 120,000 square miles of the earth's surface.

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