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NATO commander orders AWACS radar planes to Turkey

Updated:
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ NATO's top military commander in Europe has ordered AWACS surveillance planes to Turkey to watch for any potential attack from Iraq, the alliance announced Friday.

The planes will fly from their base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, to a Turkish air force base in the central city of Konya in the next few days. They are scheduled to start flying missions in defense of Turkish air space by Thursday.

The order from Gen. James L. Jones, the supreme allied commander in Europe, follows an agreement last weekend among NATO nations to end weeks of stalemate over whether to start military planning to boost Turkey's defenses against the threat of an Iraq air attack.

NATO is also sending Patriot anti-missile batteries to Turkey and is preparing to deploy units to defend against biological and chemical warfare. Turkey fears that Iraq could counterattack if the United States leads an invasion to disarm it of weapons of mass destruction.

``The AWACS and their crews would be a visible and highly effective defensive capability in the event that Turkey was threatened,'' said German air force Maj. Gen. Johann Dora, force commander of NATO's AWACS fleet.

AWACS stands for airborne warning and control system. The planes, known for the distinctive rotating radar disc that sits above the fuselage, are used primarily to track other airborne objects.

France, backed by Germany and Belgium, had held up the planning to boost Turkey's defenses during a month of crisis at NATO headquarters, arguing the measures risked undermining U.N. efforts to avert war in Iraq.

The measures were approved over the weekend after Germany and Belgium dropped their veto and France was sidelined from the discussions. NATO used its Defense Planning Committee to approve the move, and France lost its seat on that committee in the mid-1960s when Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled out of NATO's integrated military structure.

On Wednesday, the same committee cleared Jones to begin deploying the defensive measures.

It was not immediately clear how many AWACS planes would leave for Turkey, but NATO military officials this week suggested five or six planes from the alliance fleet of 17 would be enough to do the job.

Three batteries of Dutch Patriot missile defense systems have already been sent to Turkey by sea and are expected to arrive in the country by end of next week. They will be integrated into NATO's radar defense system and operated by 370 Dutch Air Force troops from southeastern Turkey.

Deployment of the biochemical units will wait until the Turkish military presents a detailed list of what exactly it needs to fill shortfalls in its defenses. NATO's military headquarters will then ask allies for specific units to move to Turkey.

NATO has also ordered its civil emergency experts to report on how the alliance can assist Turkey with the civilian consequences of any Iraqi attack, such as by helping hospitals, keeping roads and communications lines open or repairing damaged water and power networks.

The alliance is not expected to play a direct role in any fighting in Iraq.
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