GIs attacked by civilians in Turkey
March 31, 2003
About a dozen U.S. troops trying to recover an errant Navy cruise missile Saturday were attacked by a mob of angry villagers in eastern Turkey near the Iraqi and Syrian borders.
Hurling eggs and rocks, the mob broke the windshields of four Humvees and injured one U.S. servicemember, said Cmdr. Ike Skelton, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Turkey.
“He was treated on the scene and they continued their mission,” said Skelton.
Although he declined to say which U.S. units were involved, Skelton said the contingent consisted of “mostly Air Force and Navy” troops dispatched from Incirlik Air Base to hunt down a sea-launched Tomahawk missile bound for Iraq that had crashed while flying through Turkey.
The Tomahawk was the third to go astray in Turkey in less than a week, prompting “a mutual agreement” to halt such flights through Turkish airspace, said a U.S. diplomatic official in the region.
None of the missiles have exploded, and there have been no reported injuries. The missiles are fired from warships and submarines and have a range of nearly 1,000 miles.
On Saturday afternoon as U.S. troops tried to collect the pieces of the fallen Tomahawk — which had broken apart in a farm field — they were attacked by about 75 local villagers in the Arab-dominated city of Sanliufra, just north of Syria and along Turkey’s main road to the Iraqi border.
The villagers were eventually pushed back by Turkish paramilitary units, according to officials and local media reports.
In addition to the Air Force’s hub at Incirlik, there currently are about 3,500 troops, mostly from the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division and 21st Theater Support Command, stretched along the same road to Iraq.
The troops were initially tasked with preparing the way for U.S. combat units to open a northern front against Iraq. The military is now deliberating over whether to leave the logistics units on the ground for other missions — such as humanitarian aid operations — or pull them out of Turkey.