Turkey launches ground operation against PKK in Northern Iraq, Turkish army said

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Turkey launches ground operation against PKK in Northern Iraq, Turkish army said
Oluşturulma Tarihi: Şubat 22, 2008 10:39

Turkish troops entered northern Iraq on Thursday night to hunt outlawed Kurdish separatists PKK after fighter jets struck at their bases, the Turkish army said on Friday. The operation is expected to last 15 days, CNN Turk reported. (UPDATED)

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The army did not state the number of troops involved but said the incursion followed eight hours of air and artillery strikes on PKK camps across the border on Thursday.  But some 10,000 troops penetrated 10 kilometers (six miles) into the autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq, the NTV news channel said. CNN Turk reported that some 3,000 troops from special forces has taken part in the operation. 

The operation is expected to last 15 days, CNN Turk reported, citing security sources. Iraq and the coalition forces based in the country said couple of hundred Turkish troops are taking part in the operation. Turkey's military has only sent several hundred troops into a remote part of northern Iraq to hunt PKK, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters on Friday.  Only a "few hundred" Turkish soldiers are taking part in an operation against PKK in northern Iraq, a senior military officer with coalition forces based in Baghdad said.

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The Turkish General Chief made no official statement on the extent of the operation. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said "a limited ground operations has launched against the elements of the terror organisation in the northern Iraq". Turkey has always attached great importance to Iraq's national unity and territorial integrity, and expressed "sincere belief" that the operation would contribute to stability in Iraq and the peace of the region's people, Gul said in a statement.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he had spoken by telephone on Thursday night with U.S. President George W. Bush about Turkish troops' land offensive into northern Iraq. In his first public comments on the offensive, Erdogan also emphasized that PKK camps were the sole target and that the Turkish troops would return home as soon as possible.

"The sole target of cross-border operations --launched by Turkish Armed Forces (TSK)-- is the terrorist organization hide-outs in the north of Iraq... We have never been on a negative posture against Iraqi people and we will not be" Erdogan said in Ankara.

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While cross-border operation of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the north of Iraq is under way, peshmergas were moved to Turkish border. Sources told the Anatolian Agency that TSK's cross-border ground operation is continuing in the north of Iraq. Many hide-outs of the terrorists were destroyed, while many peshmergas were moved to Zakho, Amediye, Sersing and Kanimasi regions on Turkey-Iraq border.


"Long-range weapons and Turkish Air Forces jets pounded targets between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (local time) on February 21st in order to neutralize members of the terrorist organization PKK/ KONGRA-GEL stationed in north of Iraq and to destroy organizational infrastructure in the region," the General Staff said in the statement.                     

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According to the statement, Turkish army launched a cross-border ground operation into north of Iraq as of 7 p.m. on Thursday following this successful artillery bombardment. The ground operation is backed by Turkish Air Forces jets, the General Staff said. "The Turkish Armed Forces, which attach great importance to Iraq's territorial integrity and stability, will return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved," the General Staff said in a statement posted on its Web site. Turkish news agencies reported a number of the tanks attended to the ground operation started to return their bases on Friday.

The Turkish parliament in October gave a one-year authorization for cross-border operations against the PKK and forces have been built up since then with regular air strikes into northern Iraq.

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Turkish financial markets dipped slightly on news of the offensive, a possibility that had been mooted by Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on Tuesday and in a statement from Turkey's National Security Council after a meeting on Thursday.                                             

White House said the U.S. was informed in advance of Turkey's offensive in northern Iraq and urged Turkish troops to limit operations to "precise targeting" of Kurdish PKK rebels. "We were notified in advance," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters. He said the United States had urged Turkey to restrict its its military operations to "precise targeting of the PKK."

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The U.S. military has also said it was aware that Turkish forces had launched an offensive into northern Iraq on PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union. Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the operation was understood to be of "limited duration" and specifically targeted at PKK fighters in the largely autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

"Turkey has given its assurances that it will do everything possible to avoid collateral damage to innocent citizens or Kurdish infrastructure," Smith said in a statement. "The United States continues to support Turkey’s right to defend itself from the terrorist activities of the PKK and has encouraged Turkey to use all available means, to include diplomacy and close coordination with the government of Iraq to ultimately resolve this issue," he added.

The army statement said the incursion targets only the PKK, which Ankara accuses of using northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish territory. The army will "demonstrate the care required to avoid any adverse effects on civilians and local elements not hostile to the Turkish Forces," said the statement.

Turkish warplanes, assisted by US intelligence, have conducted several air strikes on PKK targets in northern Iraq since December 16 in addition to a minor land operation to stop infiltrations Turkey.

The European Union on Friday repeated a call on Turkey to refrain from any disproportionate military action in northern Iraq, a spokeswoman for the European Commision said.

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