- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — The U.S. government is still trying to determine whether the Turkish parliament will reconsider plans to allow up to 62,000 U.S. soldiers to establish a temporary base from which to launch an attack on Iraq. However, military plans are being reshaped in the event Turkey does not agree.

"We always have a backup plan," a senior defense official told United Press International. "At some point, soon, we've got to start making changes."

Those changes have already begun, according to officials at U.S. Central Command.

"The plans that we have are flexible enough to handle contingencies. There is a lot of redundancy built in for situations like this. That's what we are switching to," the official told UPI. "It all goes back to the flexibility of the plan, and are we able to deploy troops without Turkey? Yes, and if Turkey would change its mind, would we shift back? I don't know."

The senior defense official said victory is still assured over Iraq, but without Turkey's cooperation it may take longer and cost more in terms of casualties.

"There's no question that the Turkish approach would have been a preferable approach, but other approaches are available. There are other options from a military point of view. And the president has every confidence that those other options will, indeed, be militarily successful if he so exercises them," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.

The military still hopes to base the 4th Infantry Division, a unit with tanks and many heavy Bradley Fighting Vehicles, in southeastern Turkey to open a northern front in the war against Iraq. They would also help secure the vast northern oil fields from Iraqi troops who may sabotage them. Moreover, U.S. ground forces would be charged with keeping peace between potentially warring Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish troops.

Plan B, Pentagon sources say, would likely envision either the same troops swinging west in Iraq and racing to the northwest near Mosul, or flying airborne troops to the area, deploying them by parachute or landing on rough air strips in protected Kurdish territory. Supporting that scenario, the full 101st Airborne Division has received deployment orders, a Pentagon source said.

The 1st Calvary Division on Monday received deployment orders for all 17,000 of its soldiers and their heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers. They are destined for the "Central Command region," according to spokesman Dan Hassett.

Turkey's recalcitrance throws a chink in what was intended to be a two-front blitzkrieg that quickly secured the oil fields and pressed toward Baghdad.

One question that remains unanswered is whether Turkey will prohibit all U.S. forces from its soil. The United States has roughly 100 aircraft already at Incirlik Air Base, and there are at least two other air bases it would like to use. The United States is also attempting to get overflight rights in Turkey.

Roughly two dozen U.S. ships carrying equipment and weapons for the 4th Infantry Division remain off the coast of Turkey, waiting for word to either unload or divert to the Suez Canal to be offloaded in Kuwait.

"Whatever route is taken, the ultimate military mission will remain successful," Fleischer said Monday.

U.S. forces continue to erode Iraq's air defense system as it patrols the northern and southern no-fly zones. It has struck multiple targets on 16 occasions and airdropped millions of leaflets warning Iraqi soldiers not to repair the facilities in the southern no-fly zone since the beginning of February.

In the northern no-fly zone, policed by forces associated with U.S. European Command and flying from Incirlik, there have been just three strikes since January. On Saturday EUCOM aircraft dropped 240,000 propaganda leaflets over Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery gunners for the first time.

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