COVER

THE NORTHERN RAIDERS

U.S. JETS ATTACK FROM TURKISH BASES

JOHN BIERMAN February 11 1991
COVER

THE NORTHERN RAIDERS

U.S. JETS ATTACK FROM TURKISH BASES

JOHN BIERMAN February 11 1991

THE NORTHERN RAIDERS

U.S. JETS ATTACK FROM TURKISH BASES

Unless the life of the nation is threatened, war is a crime.

Kemal Atatürk

Although he died 52 years ago, Atatürk remains a powerful influence on modern Turkey, the secularized, West-leaning nation that he created from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Portraits, statues, busts and plaques depicting the former president’s sombre features adorn the walls of banks, shops, offices and restaurants across the country. And his sayings are still widely quoted as the guiding principles of a nation struggling to become a full-fledged democracy. Atatlirk’s historic stance that war is a crime has become powerful ammunition for those who claim that the current president, Turgut Ozal, has made a serious error in allowing the United States to launch a powerful air campaign against Iraq from bases in southern Turkey.

Many Turks welcome the NATO deployment of U.S. and German aircraft to defend their country against Iraqi attack. But Ozal’s critics claim that by allowing U.S. planes to fly offen-

sive missions from Turkey, he is risking retaliation by Iraqi Scud missiles, which could in turn lead the Turkish military to strike back at Iraqi troops across its southeastern border—and drag the country fully into the Gulf War. Siileyman Demirel, the conservative opposition leader and former prime minister, said last week: “I cannot say that Turkey should not enter the war. It has already entered the war.”

In fact, thousands of U.S. airmen are stationed at the giant airbase at Incirlik, on the outskirts of the grimy southern city of Adana. The pilots fly several types of aircraft, including F-l 11 bombers, F-l6 ground-attack fighters and F-15 interceptors. They are supported by AWACS flying command-and-control centres and KC-135 in-air refuelling tankers. Several times a day, aircraft roar into the skies to bomb and rocket targets in northern Iraq.

But because of unease about involvement in the war with a Moslem neighbor, the Ozal government seems anxious to downplay the

bombing raids from Incirlik. Observers say that Ankara has “requested” the privately owned Turkish press to limit its reporting about base activities, and it has barred the stateowned television service and Anatolian News Agency from referring to the base at all. Allied officers, in military briefings held in Washington and in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, do not directly mention Incirlik either. The Americans apparently do not want to embarrass their ally Ozal.

Incirlik has heavy defensive deployments around its perimeter. In terrain usually occupied only by shepherds and their flocks, batteries of Rapier anti-aircraft missiles are now concealed under camouflage netting. As well, at least eight Patriot launchers, the technological star of the early Gulf War, dominate a ridge line. Each computer-controlled battery of eight launchers costs $140 million, and each individual missile $1.2 million.

Their presence, well-known to the civilian population because at least one Patriot was

launched accidentally in the opening days of the war, offers some reassurance to residents. Turks have seen the Patriots’ capabilities demonstrated in television footage from Tel Aviv and Riyadh, where they have repeatedly knocked down incoming Scuds. Still, the people of the Incirlik area are clearly worried. Many of them say that Iraqi retaliation seems inevitable and that President Saddam Hussein may fire chemical warheads in their direction.

Masks: Adana’s provincial governor, Recep Birsin Ozen, claims that the government has sent only 900 gas masks to be distributed among the city’s one million people. Tens of thousands of them have fled to safer parts of the country, and economic activity in the region has dropped off dramatically. Local lawyer Hasan Batuman said that he has sent his family members to Mersin, 75 km to the southwest, and only sees them on weekends. He added:

“Nobody is sleeping at night. Business is terrible.

Nobody is buying, the economy is going down every day, and people are withdrawing their money from the banks.”

The economic downturn is particularly sharp along Incirlik Alley, which borders one side of the base. For more than three decades, the street’s shops have served the U.S. airmen and their families stationed there with NATO. Now, the shopkeepers—Bob’s Tailoring, Jimmy’s Carpets, Elvis Leather and Ali’s Copper Shop—say that business has dried up. Timur Cetin, proprietor of Tim’s Plaques, produced a new line of handmade copper wall decorations to celebrate Operation Desert Storm. They depict U.S. warplanes flying towards Iraq bearing such slogans as “To Saddam with love” and “Nonstop to Baghdad.” But said Cetin: “The Americans have sent their wives and children home and, since the start of the war, they don’t leave the base. Business is dead. Half the people in this village have left.”

There are additional concerns in Adana and other towns in southeastern Turkey, where smaller numbers of U.S. planes are based.

Last week, Iran’s state news agency reported that Iraq had moved several Scud missile launchers close to the Turkish border, an action that many experts said could be a prelude to a retaliatory strike. But at the same time, the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, Rafi Dahan Mejwel al-Takriti, conveyed a different intention to the Turkish people. Declared the am-

bassador: “We are friends and neighbors for eternity. I hope things will return to normal after the war.” That statement, however, failed to reassure many Turks who recalled Hussein’s promise last summer that he would not invade Kuwait.

Military analysts stress the strategic importance of sites in northern Iraq, the Incirlik jets’ target area. The region is the base for many of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons facilities, although the Americans claim to have destroyed most of them. The area also includes many of the airfields from which Iraqi warplanes have fled to Iran, as well as the impor-

tant oil installations around the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

In other developments, the Iraqis claimed to have destroyed a U.S. plane that they said crashed in flames inside Turkey. And Iraqi Kurdish rebel sources reported that the body of an American pilot had been dragged through the streets of Mosul behind an Iraqi army vehicle.

Polls: Ozal has taken his country to the brink of war despite opinion polls that show more than 80 per cent of his people oppose letting the Americans use Turkish bases to strike Iraq. In the process, he is apparently hoping to ensure Turkey’s admission into the European Community by reaffirming its pro-Western credentials in the aftermath of the Cold War. As well, he may try to convince Washington to reward him by reequipping his armed forces— and to grant him a seat at the postwar negotiating table. By I Ozal’s own account last week, I his main concern in any negoi tiations will be to ensure that

ILAMI/SIPA

no independent Kurdish state is established in northern Iraq. That could encourage separatist elements among Turkey’s own 10 million Kurds.

But Ozal’s critics claim that he is needlessly endangering his people. Said opposition Democratic Left Party chairman Bülent Ecevit: “At the end of this war, our Western neighbors and the United States may forget to reward us. But our Arab neighbors will never forget our policy.” The most violent protests so far against that policy have been mounted by MarxistLeninist terrorist groups, which have claimed responsibility for at least a dozen bomb inci-

dents in the past two weeks at U.S. and other Western offices and installations in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Adana. Damage has been slight and no one has been injured.

Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalists who also oppose Ozal's policy have confined their activities to street demonstrations. But extremists among them undoubtedly are capable of carrying out acts of lethal violence. In the past 12 months, they have been responsible for 17 assassinations not directly connected with the Gulf crisis. The most recent of those occurred last week when a retired general was shot dead outside his home in Ankara.

Clearly, widespread outbreaks of terrorism, inspired by Saddam Hussein’s call for a holy war against his enemies, remain a risk in Turkey. Retaliatory Scud strikes seem less likely, analysts say, because Hussein, with an estimated 100,000 Iraqi troops facing a similar number of Turkish soldiers across their common border, would prefer to avoid a northern ground war. But the Iraqi dictator has proven his unpredictability. And some Turks seem to be convinced that Hussein might still strike in their direction, whatever the price.

JOHN BIERMAN