Pentagon Says Bombers Sent to Turkey Are to Support Relief of Kurds With AM-US-Iraq Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. F-111 bombers and radar-jamming aircraft are going to Turkey to support the Kurdish relief operation, and not because of the problems between Saddam Hussein and U.N. weapons investigators, the Pentagon’s spokesman said on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Pentagon announced that Air Force F-111s and EF-111s were being sent to Turkey’s Incerlik Air Base to strengthen coalition air forces as the U.S. ground forces start to withdraw.
Queried whether President Bush could use the repositioned aircraft for a strike against Saddam over Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections, spokesman Pete Williams said, ″They would be for the purpose of Provide Comfort, period.″
The F-111s can be used as long-range bombers, while the EF-111s have terrain-following radar and are also used to jam enemy radars.
Williams said the ground forces that have been in Turkey for the Kurdish relief operation ″have pretty well completed their mission now, and will complete it as they phase out. And we can now perform the mission with air units.″
The pact that put the coalition’s ground and air forces in Turkey was to expire on Sept. 30, but its members agreed over the weekend to reconfigure their units and maintain the protective shield for the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, Williams said.
The spokesman said the transfer would take place over the next 30 days, and has already begun.
Williams said he did not know how many aircraft will be transferred, or how many will be in Turkey at the end of the change-over. He said he expected the new bombers and radar-jammers to come from U.S. forces based in England.
At present, the U.S. forces have 42 fixed-wing aircraft and 79 helicopters committed to Provide Comfort, Williams said.
The planes include F-16 fighters, A-10 tank-killers, KC-135 tankers and E- 3B surveillance aircraft. The helicopters include a variety of attack helicopters, utility and transport choppers and observation helicopters, the spokesman said.
Thousands of coalition troops from Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States helped ease the return of 1.5 million Kurdish refugees after their failed March uprising against Saddam Hussein’s government.
At present, Williams said, there are 2,031 coalition military forces at the post of Silopi, and that 1,183 of those are U.S. troops.
Over the weekend, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Ferhat Ataman said the coalition would reduce the number of fighter jets, attack planes, reconnaisance aircraft and tankers in the deterrence force to 48. The planes are stationed at Incirlik in southern Turkey, 420 miles northwest of Iraq.
U.S. Army Maj. Michael McKinney, a coalition spokesman at Incirlik, said the coalition regularly flies reconnaissance missions over Iraq north of the 36th parallel ″to make sure that Baghdad is abiding by U.N. resolutions and the terms of (Gulf War) cease-fire.″