Turkey sends soldiers to International Force in Afghanistan ahead of command takeover
Around 300 Turkish soldiers were preparing on Wednesday to leave for Kabul to join the existing Turkish contingent in the international security force in Afghanistan, before Turkey takes over the force's command from Britain.
A ceremony was held in a military base in Ankara to say farewell to the departing soldiers, attended by Turkish army chief Huseyin Kivrikoglu and General Akin Zorlu, who will head the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The soldiers, comprising of officers who will serve at the ISAF headquarters and air force troops who will be tasked with operating and protecting Kabul airport, were to begin departing for the Afghan capital later Wednesday, AFP said.
Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, already has 269 troops serving in ISAF and agreed to lead the force for six months after Britain, hoping to strengthen its influence in a region with which it has historic and ethnic ties.
During a speech he delivered at the ceremony, Kivrikoglu said that Turkey would take over ISAF's command on June 20 and increase its participation to the force to 1,400 soldiers.
"Assuming a responsibility in a country miles away from its own borders will enable Turkey to gain invaluable experience," Kivrikoglu said.
Turkey plans to complete its troop deployment by the end of June and will also send 36 vehicles comprised of ambulances, patrol cars, personnel carriers and tankers, to back up the troops.
The 4,500-strong ISAF began deploying in and around Kabul just days before an interim administration was sworn into office on December 22, following the ouster of Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
Its original mandate was scheduled to end on June 20, but the United Nations Security Council last week extended the force for six months beyond June 20. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)