Associated Press WriterANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey said Thursday that it would contribute a 90-strong special forces unit to the U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan, heeding a U.S. request for help from NATO's only Muslim member.
Turkey said its special forces, which have fought Kurdish rebels for 15 years in southeast Turkey, in mountainous conditions that resemble parts of Afghanistan, could strengthen the loosely organized forces of the northern alliance that opposes the ruling Taliban.
The force would also conduct reconnaissance missions, help combat terrorists and support humanitarian aid operations as well as protect and evacuate civilians, a statement from Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's office said.
"The success of the U.S.-led operation is for the good of humanity," a statement from the Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's office said.
Ecevit's statement said the deployment was carefully evaluated by the military and civilian leadership in light of Turkey's obligations under NATO and at the request of the United States on Friday.
Ecevit said that the deployment was decided in the cabinet earlier Thursday and approved by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
Turkish parliament has already given a blanket approval for troop deployment abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Turkey has offered to train anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and said it could even provide peacekeepers when conditions are right.
Turkey has long had contacts with Afghan opposition groups, especially the forces of Gen. Rashid Dostum, one of the northern alliance leaders. Dostum's fighters are largely Uzbeks, a group that has close ethnic links with Turks. The Taliban are mostly ethnic Pashtun.
Transport aircraft taking part in the U.S.-led operation are apparently using Turkey's southern Incirlik air base as a transport hub. The base is also a staging point for patrols above northern Iraq by U.S. planes.
President Bush launched the air campaign after the Taliban repeatedly refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed an estimated 4,500 people in the United States. Britain, Australia and Canada have shipped out troops to help in the war.
The United States and its allies in the coalition against terrorism are hoping the poorly trained, outgunned and outmanned alliance can make gains on the ground before the harsh Afghan winter takes hold.