KIZILTEPE, Turkey – Several hundred U.S. soldiers unloaded trucks and jeeps Sunday at a newly established forward-operating base deep in southeastern Turkey, only 100 miles from the Iraqi border.
The compound will serve as a logistics base for 62,000 U.S. troops, if Turkey allows the United States to use its territory to launch a northern front against Iraq in a war.
The U.S. military is pushing ahead with preparations for a deployment even after the Turkish parliament last week narrowly rejected a resolution letting in American troops. The Turkish government -- as well as the military -- supports the deployment and says it intends to hold another vote, though when is not clear.
The compound was set up last week outside the town of Kiziltepe under a separate deal that authorized the U.S. military to start preparations at ports and air bases for the arrival of combat troops.
Dozens of jeeps, ambulances, trucks and fuel-haulers were lined up behind the walled compound Sunday, surrounded by barbed wire. Turkish and a few U.S. soldiers stood guard outside the perimeters of the base on the outskirts of this southeastern town.
Around 30 more trucks, carrying more jeeps and military equipment left the eastern Turkish port of Iskenderun, for a 15-hour convoy to the base early Sunday. The operation is run by some of 3,500 U.S. troops.
The compound, once a grain refinery and warehouse complex, is just a few miles from a small civilian airport and lies just off the main road to the Iraqi border. U.S. military logisticians have also been looking to rent land closer to Iraq, apparently to set up new bases, locals said.
Residents in this part of southeast Turkey reported increasing activity by U.S. troops.
"Americans are everywhere," said Abdullah Dulger, who sells hundreds of gallons of gasoline a day to U.S. troops for their generators.
Children shout "American! American!" when they see a 4X4 jeep, preferred by U.S. soldiers in civilian clothes and sporting baseball caps.
A hotel owner said the Americans were seeking to book all rooms in his small hotel in the ancient mountaintop city of Mardin, 13 miles north of the U.S. base.
The Turkish military, a big recipient of U.S. military supplies, says the country should agree to American requests for the sake of the country's strategic relations with Washington.
The Turkish military does not intend to fight alongside U.S. forces against Iraq but plans to send tens of thousands of troops into northern Iraq to contain Iraqi Kurdish forces and prevent them establishing an independent Kurdish state.
Turkey fears such a state would encourage its own separatist Kurds. Iraqi Kurds have vowed to resist any Turkish incursion.
Amid rising tensions with Iraqi Kurds, a mechanized infantry unit of Turkish M-113 armored personnel carriers conducted drills Sunday within the perimeters of a Turkish base 2 miles from the U.S. compound in Kiziltepe.
The drills coincided with unconfirmed reports that the Turkish military had sent a number of tanks overnight into northern Iraq. Local people said the tanks were using portable metal bridges and moving in the dark to pass the river of Hezil that divides Turkey and Iraq. Military officials would not confirm the report.