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U.S. military looking at alternatives in case Turkey cuts access

  • Story Highlights
  • Turkey has threatened restricting U.S. access to Turkish airspace
  • Tensions come after vote calling the killing of Armenians genocide
  • Key issue is to find ways to ship supplies and other critical equipment into Iraq
  • Any cutoff would force the U.S. military into longer cargo flights
  • Next Article in U.S. »
From Barbara Starr
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U.S. military planners quietly have stepped up a review of alternatives in case the Turkish government restricts U.S. access to Turkish airspace or cuts off access to the air base at Incirlik, Turkey, CNN has learned.

U.S. Air Force planes prepare to take off in November 2001 from the air base at Incirlik, Turkey.

Turkey has threatened such action after congressional moves to declare that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in World War I was "genocide."

Turkey -- now a NATO member and a key U.S. ally in the war on terror -- accepts Armenians were killed but calls it a massacre during a chaotic time, not an organized campaign of genocide.

The recent rise in tensions between Turkey and the United States has led the military to increase its planning for alternatives, two military officials with direct knowledge of the ongoing assessment said.

"Events have triggered more detailed planning for the curtailment or closure" of access to Turkey, one official said. The key issue is to find ways to ship supplies and other critical equipment into Iraq.

The U.S. military already had been considering alternatives to Turkey because of the growing dependence on that country after the cutback of U.S. forces in central Asia in recent years.

But now, with more "detailed planning" under way, the military is considering a variety of options in hopes of being ready for whatever, if anything, the Turks do.

U.S. officials say Turkey's options range from a complete cutoff, including ending overland access routes from southern Turkey into Iraq, to less drastic options that simply restrict U.S. access.

The initial assessment is that any cutoff from current access to Turkey would force the U.S. military into longer cargo flights, which would mean extra costs for fuel and for wear and tear on equipment. It may also look for other air hubs in Jordan or Kuwait, officials say. See Turkey's strategic position »

Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this week pointed out, "Seventy percent of the air cargo, American air cargo, going into Iraq goes through Turkey. Seventy percent of the fuel that goes in for our forces goes in ... through Turkey ...

"For those who are concerned that we get as many of these mine-resistant ambush-protected heavy vehicles into Iraq as possible, 95 percent of those vehicles today are being flown into Iraq through Turkey."

Turkey on Thursday recalled its ambassador to the United States and warned of repercussions in the growing dispute.

On Wednesday, in a 27-21 vote, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the measure labeling the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces "genocide."

President Bush and key administration figures lobbied hard against the measure, saying it would create unnecessary headaches for U.S. relations with Turkey.

The full House could soon vote on the genocide resolution. A top Turkish official warned Thursday that consequences "won't be pleasant" if it approves the measure.


The resolution arrives at a particularly sensitive point in U.S.-Turkish relations. The United States has urged Turkey not to send its troops over the border into northern Iraq to fight Kurdish separatist rebels, who launched some cross-border attacks against Turkish targets. Video Watch a report on the gathering storm along the border »

The Turkish military is poised to strike across the border to fight the group -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK -- a move opposed by the Bush administration. The Turkish parliament could give approval for the incursion into Iraq as early as next week. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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