Media frowns on US demand for combat troops
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 12/3/2009 12:00:00 AM | YASEMİN SİM ESMEN
Across the Atlantic from each other, the United States and Turkey are both discussing the deployment of combat soldiers in Afghanistan. Although Turkish soldiers have been serving in Afghanistan, training Afghan army and security forces, their role in the country does not include combat. The US-proposed change in the duty of the Turkish soldiers raises concerns in the Turkish press
Turkish press headlines Thursday carried the news that U.S. Ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey had asked Turkey to deploy combat soldiers to Afghanistan.
Most journalists and columnists believe that although Turkish troops are deployed in Afghanistan under the NATO-led security and development mission known as the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, it would not be in Turkey’s, or NATO’s, interest for Turkey to send combat troops to the country.
“The United States is not only asking Turkey, but all NATO nations, such as Belgium, to send more troops,” daily HaberTürk’s foreign news director Soli Özel said in a phone interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
He added that he did not believe other NATO states would be sending additional troops.
“Some think Afghanistan may be the end of NATO [if the organization fails in its mission],” Özel said. He added that he believes NATO has been stuck in a difficult position in Afghanistan and that Turkey, on principle, needs to take responsibility as a NATO member when the organization asks for help.
However, Özel said he sees a very big drawback in sending combat troops to Afghanistan.
“NATO’s Afghan strategy at the moment is based on winning over the Afghan people,” he said. “Deployment of Turkish combat troops to this country would have a negative effect if it decreases Turkey’s success in the work it has been conducting [training the Afghan army and security forces] and it may not be as effective as before. And I think it will.”
Leading with the story on its front page, HaberTürk covered the topic under the heading “Send combat soldiers.” The paper’s editor in chief, Fatih Altaylı, also addressed the subject in his column. Noting a Turkish politician’s comment to him that the latest developments showed that Obama would dictate the Afghanistan issue to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the latter’s visit to Washington, Altaylı disagreed with that premise. Instead, he said, due to the “eruption of self-esteem” Erdoğan has experienced in the international arena lately, he would be more likely to provide recommendations to Obama than to take them.
“No soldiers to Obama,” read daily Posta, which also carried the story on its front page. The paper reported that although Erdoğan was likely to refuse the demand for Turkish combat soldiers, the Turkish government, which values American support on the Kurdish initiative, might develop other formulas for assistance.
In an interview with the Daily News, the paper’s Ankara representative and columnist Hakan Çelik said sending combat troops to Afghanistan would contradict the Turkish government’s international policy.
“Although it has not been called as such, the government is trying to position Turkey in a respectable place and become a leader in the Sunni Muslim world,” Çelik said.
“[Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu’s visits to Iran, the Gulf countries and Afghanistan all aim to confirm this,” he said. “If Turkey sends combat troops to Afghanistan, this will mean it will be giving up on some of its role as a conciliatory, mediating country.”
In his column in daily Sabah on Thursday, Erdal Şafak wrote: “This demand is nothing more than a call for disaster because this means that a Muslim will shed Muslim blood.”
Şafak’s newspaper reported the news with the headline: “Turkey vetoes combat soldiers.”
Daily Cumhuriyet handled the topic under the subheading “Soldiers to combat.” The newspaper gave a detailed account of both Obama’s speech at the West Point Military Academy, where he announced that Washington would send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, and Ambassador Jeffrey’s words.
Another newspaper to lead with the story on its front page was daily Akşam, which interviewed Hikmet Çetin, who served as the NATO secretary-general’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006. Çetin said the United States had asked for support from all its allies and that Turkey would not regard such a demand favorably. “Taking economic and social steps is a necessity in order to dissipate the Taliban’s effect,” said Çetin.
Daily Milliyet’s headline read “No to Obama.” The paper wrote that Ankara did not want the Turkish soldiers to take part in combat, a position that was emphasized in the declaration following the National Security Council, or MGK, meeting in October.
The paper quoted the following from the declaration: “It was confirmed that, as in previous duties, Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] will not be used in combating terrorism, combating illegal drugs and clearing mines.”