The Turkish government has formally announced its decision to assume command of Afghanistan's International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF). The UN-mandated peacekeeping force is a critical component of international efforts to assist the beleaguered country on the road to peace and reconstruction.
"The government has officially agreed to take over the ISAF command," foreign ministry spokesman, Huseyin Dirioz told IRIN from the Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday. "The date of the takeover is now being discussed with our partner countries," he explained.
His comments follow a cabinet statement on Monday stating Turkey would assume command of the 5,000-strong force from Britain for six months. While no exact handover date was given, according to a communiqué issued afterwards, this would be established after further negotiations with the United Nations and representatives of countries making up ISAF.
However, according to the Turkish daily Milliyet on Tuesday, Turkish Major-General Akin Zorlu was set to take command of the force on 22 June and during the months of May and June, Turkey would increase its current contingent of 267 men to 1,300. If there was no extension, Turkey would lead the force until 22 December 2002, it maintained.
Monday's decision comes after months of negotiations over whether Ankara would assume command of the international peacekeeping force based in the Afghan capital Kabul or not. On 31 March, Turkey's National Security Council gave its approval for the assumption of the ISAF command, provided that Turkey's requirements were met in full. These included ensuring that funding was provided to meet the cost of commanding the force, and that there would be no expansion of ISAF from its present operational zone: a 32 km radius around Kabul.
While most assurances, particularly financial, have been given, some technical issues were still under discussion. Ankara wants a commitment from the US to provide transport and logistical support to the Turkish contingent and for the British to leave some of their communications facilities in place before it hands over command.
While Turkish soldiers have participated in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Somalia, this will be the first time its military leadership has agreed to take full command of a multinational force. The only Muslim nation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) - an alliance of 19 nations committed to each other's defence - Turkey enjoys strong historical ties with Afghanistan, putting it in a strong position to assume the leadership of ISAF.