Allied buildup in northern Iraq
SALAHUDDIN, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition forces are increasing in the north of Iraq, indicating a northern front in the war on Iraq could be opened soon.
Until recently, between 20 and 30 special operations forces were in Iraq's northern region, but the number appears to be growing rapidly as two major airstrips in the north report U.S. planes coming in fairly steadily.
More than 200 troops were said to be in the area early Monday.
U.S. Special Forces were bringing troops and equipment into the Harir airstrip near Erbil, Iraq, and another airstrip in northeast Iraq near Sulaymaniyah.
The equipment included chemical detectors, as well as communications systems for forward aircraft controllers.
The Harir airstrip is under the control of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the airstrip near Sulaymaniyah is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Another key move signaling the opening of a northern front is the arrival on Monday of coalition commander Maj. Gen. Henry Pete Osman.
Osman is in charge of military coordination and liaison for a northern front in the war on Iraq.
U.S. planes have begun to attack front-line Iraqi positions north of Mosul.
Though he would not elaborate, U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks said Monday that American, British, and Australian special operations forces are going "about their business from left to right and top to bottom in the west and also in the north" of Iraq.
"They have accomplished some wonderful things out there," working in small teams and "doing exactly what we want them to do," Franks said.
The northern buildup comes on the heels of an agreement reached Sunday when Turkish officials gave the United States the right to use its airspace to fly into Iraq.
The Turkish parliament had earlier refused permission, despite billions of dollars of incentives offered by the U.S. government.
Osman is expected to be responsible for trying to keep Turkish forces out of the region, while continuing the coordinated effort of American and British forces.
Osman said he has met with senior Turkish officials in Ankara and Silopi, Turkey, and with Kurdish military commanders in Dohuk, Iraq.
"U.S. and coalition partners support a secure, stable, free Iraq which includes the preservation of its current borders," Osman said.
The U.S. forces will focus on humanitarian efforts as troops help clear the way for the United Nations and other non-government organizations to bring relief into the area, he said at a news conference from Salahuddin.
Meanwhile, negotiations between U.S. and Turkish officials continued Monday, as the two nations tried to hammer out an agreement on how to deal with northern Iraq. (Full story)
U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met Foreign Ministry officials in a session he described as positive.
Washington is concerned that a buildup of Turkish troops in northern Iraq could spark another battlefront between Turkey and the Kurdish forces that control much of the area.
U.S. officials "have made it very clear" they want Turkish troops to stay out of northern Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush said Sunday.
Turks are concerned that Kurds in the autonomous region of northern Iraq might push for independence, and thereby enflame similar passions among Kurds in Turkey.
-- CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman and Senior International Correspondent Brent Sadler contributed to this report