ANKARA - Despite its earlier skepticism about joining any military action in the Libyan crisis, Turkey has agreed to a triple role in NATO's operations aimed at stopping Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from inflicting casualties on rebel forces.
"We have agreed to take part in three specific missions as part of the NATO plan," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters here March 28. Those missions are:
* A NATO air base near Izmir on the Aegean coast will be used as a sub-command center to support the overall NATO command center in Naples, in southern Italy.
* Turkey will take over control of the Benghazi Airport in eastern Libya to coordinate international humanitarian aid efforts. Erdogan has said that an accord to that effect has already been signed. Benghazi is the rebels' stronghold.
* A fleet of Turkish warships and one submarine will help carry out a naval blockade off the Libyan coast, as called for in U.N. Resolution 1973.
NATO leaders say the Turkish air component will help give NATO the credibility it seeks in taking military action against a Muslim nation.
This happens at a time when Turkey and NATO, only a few weeks ago, disputed a NATO plan to close down its air command center in Izmir, despite strong Turkish objections.
Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul in early March said that "Turkey would struggle hard against such a plan."
Some analysts think assigning Izmir as a sub-command structure for the Libyan mission may strengthen the Turkish case. A final decision on the future of the Izmir air base will be made at a NATO summit in June.