The Turkish cabinet said in a statement, ”It has been decided by the council of ministers, that Turkey will take over the command of the International Security and Assistance Force from the United Kingdom, for a period of six months.”
Turkey, which has deployed some 270 peacekeepers in Afghanistan, is the only Muslim country to contribute to the 18-nation force responsible for patrolling the capital of Kabul.
The U.S. lobbied for Turkish command over the 4,500-member force, which would set a model for other Muslim nations and further bolster Washington’s assertion that the war on terrorism is not a battle against Islam.
The date of the command transfer had not been established yet, but would be “determined following negotiations with Afghanistan, Britain, and the United Nations,” Turkish cabinet spokesman Yilmaz Karakoyunlu said. British officials said they did not believe the handover would come before June.
Turkey’s announcement comes after weeks of talks with British and U.S. officials about logistical and economic aid for the mission. Turkey had postponed its statement at first amid worries the mission’s expensive satellite communications systems and the costs of transporting additional troops to Afghanistan might weigh too heavily on the country’s troubled economy, the Turkish Daily News service reported.
Turkish officials insisted the U.S. supply cargo planes and that Britain leave behind some of its facilities it set up for the peacekeeping team. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also promised Turkey full U.S. support if it took control of the international force.
In London, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon also applauded Turkey’s decision, promising that a British contingent would remain in Kabul after Turkey took command.
The Turkish government said the peacekeeping force would continue to patrol Kabul only, despite repeated Afghan requests to expand the multinational presence throughout the country and to help prevent conflicts among regional warlords.
Turkey has participated in past multinational peacekeeping groups in the Balkans and Somalia, but this announcement marks the first time Turkey would lead an international force.