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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Nearly 2,000 soldiers from 1st Infantry Division — including most of the division staff as well as communications, medical, intelligence and other support units — are on their way to Turkey as part of a possible northern front invasion into Iraq, according to informed military officials.

The orders come, however, even as the Pentagon awaits official approval from the Turkish parliament to stage U.S. forces there. According to reports, the Turks have agreed to allow up to 20,000 U.S. troops to pass through Turkey into northern Iraq.

A 150-strong assessment team from the U.S. European Command recently completed surveying Turkish ports and military facilities. Those surveys followed high-level negotiations with both Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers and U.S. European Command’s new leader Gen. James Jones.

U.S. defense officials emphasize that the units now beginning to move will not even be able to enter Turkey until the Turkish lawmakers give their nod.

That could take weeks. The Muslim holy week of Eid al-Adha begins February 12.

“That could tie things up for awhile if they don’t vote before then,” said a U.S. diplomat in the region. A Turkish government official said it was doubtful the parliament would convene before the holidays.

“These units have to start moving now because we simply can’t wait anymore,” said an Army officer familiar with the deployments. “We’re just hoping the approval comes by the time we get there.”

Indeed, officials refuse to even confirm publicly that the forces are going to Turkey.

1st Infantry Division spokesman Maj. Mark Ballesteros could only say that some 1,800 1st Infantry Division troops have been given deployment orders “in support of U.S. Central Command.”

Units, he said, include:

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Infantry Division.101st Military Intelligence Battalion.121st Signal Battalion.701st Main Support Battalion.601st Aviation Support Battalion.Ballesteros said troops began loading gear and equipment aboard trains Wednesday morning at the Army’s railhead in Kitzingen, Germany.

Also included in the deployment are an additional 150 medical experts from V Corps’ 30th Medical Brigade, including all of the 557th Medical Company (Ground Ambulance) and parts of the 45th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), according to corps spokeswoman Hilde Patton.

Officials at the U.S. European Command — which oversees operations in Turkey — would only say that the forces are staying with the EUCOM’s official sphere of influence.

EUCOM spokesman Maj. Bill Bigelow added the units are being tasked “to support the global war on terrorism and prepare for future contingencies, as directed.

“These deployments are prudent steps to increase military capability and enhance flexibility,” he said.

Bigelow declined to say which country the units were deploying.

Several senior officials, however, confirmed that plans call for moving the 1st Infantry Division units into Turkey, adding that they may have to wait in staging areas — either aboard cargo ships or elsewhere in the Balkans — until the Turkish parliament makes its decision.

Meanwhile, additional units are expected to begin moving soon as well, including 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. The squadron — which blends tanks, mechanized infantry, and helicopters under one command — was to deploy in Kovoso in November, but was pulled out of the peacekeeping rotation at the last minute.

1st ID currently has one of its two brigades in Kosovo. The other brigade returned from peacekeeping duties in November and still needs several months of training before it would be considered combat ready.

Meanwhile, reports suggest elements of the Fort Hood, Texas-based 4th Infantry Division could join 1st Infantry Division in Turkey. 4th ID received its marching orders for the region last week.

The division had been slated to participate in V Corps “Victory Scrimmage” exercises now under way in Bavaria. The exercises, designed to fine-tune invasion plans into Iraq from the south, began on Tuesday and involve the top staffs of the Germany-based 1st Armored Division and U.S.-based 1st Cavalry, 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne Divisions.


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