ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkey’s signal this week that it would be willing to let U.S. troops transit the country as American forces leave Iraq is a sign of improved relations, but it is not yet certain the route will be needed, a top U.S. Army commander said on Tuesday.
"We’re in the process now of trying to re-establish what had been a long standing positive relationship," Gen. Carter Ham, who comman’s U.S. Army Europe, told the AP. "I’m not aware that there are any plans from Central Command to move troops through Turkey but the fact that the (Turkish) prime minister said he would consider that is a positive sign."
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he would be receptive to allowing U.S. troops to leave Iraq through Turkish territory, provided President Barack Obama’s administration asked permission, CNN reported Sunday.
Ham’s remarks came after he wrapped up a two-day meeting with Turkish defense officials in Ankara, but he said the topic was not a part of those discussions.
Fuel and other supplies for U.S. forces in Iraq come in through Turkey, which could also be used to take heavy equipment out of Iraq. If U.S. troops were to leave through Turkey, they would likely fly out of Incirlik Air Base.
U.S. relations with Turkey soured in 2003 when Washington’s plans to send the 4th Infantry Division to invade Iraq from the north as other troops moved in from the south were thwarted when Turkish lawmakers voted against letting American soldiers move through the country.
Since then, relations have gradually warmed between the two fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Ham said that, since the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq is expected to be gradual, many troops would likely leave the country through ports in Kuwait and airports in Iraq.
Still, he said it was too early to discount Turkey as another avenue.
"It’s always good to have more options, but it may not be a requirement," he said. "It would only make sense if the pace of the deployment meant that you were stacking up stuff at the port in Kuwait, but we’ll see how this plays out."