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Turk special forces boost alliance

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey's foreign minister says its decision to send troops to Afghanistan signals the war against terrorism "is not a war against Islam -- terrorism does not have a religion."

Ismael Cem was speaking to CNN on Thursday after Turkey said it was to deploy special forces troops to Afghanistan.

The move, revealed on Thursday, means Turkey is the first predominantly Muslim nation to join in the U.S. attacks against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Turkey, a member of NATO, said it would send a 90-man unit to northern Afghanistan to combat terrorists, train anti-Taliban fighters and support humanitarian aid operations.

Turkey's contribution is the latest sign that allied forces are preparing for a sustained campaign of surprise raids by small, elite units.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismael Cem: "This is not a war against Islam -- terrorism does not have a religion"
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Britain, Australia and Canada are sending special forces to fight alongside U.S. troops, and France is considering a similar contribution.

Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said the government decided to send troops after becoming convinced that the hard-line Taliban must be removed.

Cem told CNN: "In Turkey we believe that this is not a war that belongs to the United States alone. It's our war, Turkey's war, as well."

He added: "Of course, we don't want to have our soldiers getting shot and we want them to come back home safely.

"This is what the public opinion's main concern is and it seems with what the framework is we have put together we are minimising such risks, but, of course, in such an environment, no one can be sure of everything."

The Taliban are sheltering bin Laden, the main suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"The Taliban regime and its archaic practices pose a threat primarily to Central Asia, and to the world," Ecevit said at a news conference.

The Turkish force would also take on reconnaissance missions as well as protect and evacuate civilians, Ecevit's office said.

CNN Turk, citing unidentified sources, said an advance group of 15 soldiers would travel through Uzbekistan over the weekend to make the first contact with local forces and U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Turkey's special forces are experienced in guerrilla warfare after fighting Kurdish rebels for more than 15 years in mountainous southeast Turkey.

Necdet Sezer
Turkish President Ahmed Necdet Sezer approved the decision to send troops  

However, such deployment could spur protests in Turkey, where polls suggest more than 80 percent of Turks oppose troop deployment in Afghanistan.

Some Turks are uncomfortable with attacking another Muslim country, but most fear that the war could spread to Iraq and then to Turkey, deepening an already crippling economic crisis.

Police on Thursday used tear gas to break up a group of university students in Istanbul who chanted anti-U.S. slogans and condemned the attacks against Afghanistan. Fifty students were arrested.

Turkey has opened its air space to U.S. aircraft and has shared intelligence with the United States since the beginning of the current crisis.

The country has a 99 percent Muslim population, so troop involvement would provide a potentially valuable component in any broad-ranging coalition the United States formed.

Turkey's special forces have fought Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey for 15 years in mountainous conditions that resemble parts of Afghanistan.

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.


• U.S. calls for Turkish troops
October 31, 2001

• Republic of Turkey

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