Turkey has asked its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners to send a multinational force of air units from NATO countries to bolster Turkish defenses against possible border clashes with Iraq by Jan. 15, U.S. and other NATO officials said yesterday.
The sources said that the request from President Turgut Ozal's government was made in anticipation of possible warfare after the Jan. 15 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for Iraq to end its occupation of Kuwait.
The council last month approved the use of "all necessary measures" including military force to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has not withdrawn them by that deadline.
The 16 NATO countries formally affirmed last August that they would honor the NATO treaty's commitments to defend Turkey, a fellow member, if it comes under attack.
They acted after Turkey, complying with Security Council sanctions imposed against Iraq, dealt a major blow to Iraq's ability to sell oil abroad by cutting off shipments of oil from the Mediterranean end of twin Iraqi pipelines that pass through Turkey.
Turkey has not sent any troops to the U.S.-led multinational forces facing Iraq.
Involvement in a possible war with Iraq would mark the first instance of NATO's military capabilties being projected beyond the original Cold War boundaries -- Europe and its extensions into the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean and Adriatic seas -- in which it was designed to operate at its inception in 1949.
However, the sources said, an attack on Turkey, which forms Europe's border with the Middle East, would fall clearly within NATO's sphere of responsibilities.
Turkish government spokesmen refused to confirm that it had asked for air support. However, the sources said that Ankara has formally requested NATO headquarters in Brussels to send to Turkey some units from the air component of the alliance's multinational force.
The force, which has ground and air components, is a small, multilateral task force that can be dispatched at short notice to different parts of NATO's strategic area to demonstrate the alliance's commitment to collective self-defense.
At the present time, those countries that have committed units to serve in the NATO force are the United States, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Britain. The sources said that while they expect a positive response to the Turkish request, no decision has been made yet, and they thus could not say which countries and how many planes might be involved.
The Turkish parliament has authorized the country's armed forces to respond if attacked by Iraq, but has not approved Turkish participation in offensive actions.
The Turkish armed forces have an estimated 650,000 personnel on active duty, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Its air force includes more than 60 advanced American-made F16 fighters and more than 500 older American-supplied jet fighters.
Turkey's armed forces are the second largest in NATO after those of the United States, and 100,000 Turkish troops are deployed along the border with Iraq, tying up eight Iraqi divisions.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.