Less than a day after the United States began using Turkish airspace in the war against Iraq, a plane flying along a path reserved for the U.S. military dropped an object that exploded just outside a rural village in southeastern Turkey, witnesses and local officials said tonight.
The explosion occurred about 5:30 p.m. just a few hundred yards from the houses of Ozveren village, located near Birecik about 20 miles north of the Syrian border, authorities said. Residents said the blast lit up the sky and left a crater at least 13 feet wide and three feet deep in an empty area beside a small road.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.
Speaking on national television, the governor of Sanliurfa province, Sukru Kocatepe, said another object fell from a plane and landed about 110 miles to the east, in a hamlet named Ayakli, south of Viransehir, but there was no explosion. The semi-official Anatolia news agency described the second object as "guided-missile ammunition."
The Turkish military sealed off both areas and was investigating the incident, officials said.
There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon or the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the capital. The two villages are located beneath an air corridor from the eastern Mediterranean to the Turkish-Iraqi border that U.S. warplanes began using Saturday night. Civilian airports along the route were closed Saturday.
Turkey agreed Friday to open its airspace to the U.S. military, but attempted to pressure the United States to allow Turkish troops into Iraq as part of the deal. The two governments are scheduled to hold further talks this week on the dispute over the proposed Turkish deployment.
President Bush, returning to the White House from the presidential Camp David retreat in Maryland, said more U.S. troops are arriving in northern Iraq and the United States was "making it very clear" that it does not want a Turkish military presence. "They know our policy, and it's a firm policy, [and] they know we're working with the Kurds to make sure there's not an incident" with the Turkish military, the Associated Press reported.
In a speech broadcast live to the nation after his government received its first parliamentary vote of confidence today, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended the decision to open Turkish airspace to the U.S. military, saying it was "in Turkey's interests, and a requirement of our alliance with the United States."
But he also pledged to send Turkish troops into Iraq to prevent a refugee crisis and attacks by Turkish Kurd separatists operating from Iraqi territory. "The existence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq will be an element of stability and security," he said. "The brave Turkish armed forces, which have always been a guarantor of peace in every place and time, will be lending a hand one more time to those who need help."