As part of the ongoing preparations, some 11 battalions have been deployed at 11 strategic locations on the Cudi, Kato, Gabar, Küpeli and Namaz mountains on the border with Iraq, sources told Today’s Zaman. The battalions were deployed on the southern side of the mountains to prevent future infiltration by the PKK terrorists from Iraq. Intelligence unit recommendations show that holding seven points near the border would be sufficient to prevent terrorist infiltration. In other words, it is currently physically impossible for the terrorists to cross into Turkish territory. The 11 battalions will remain in their areas of deployment throughout the winter, the same sources said.
Quoting military sources, the Reuters news agency said Turkish warplanes flew as deep as 20 kilometers into Iraqi territory and some 300 ground troops advanced about 10 kilometers, killing 34 PKK terrorists right after a deadly attack on a military unit on Sunday, which claimed the lives of 12 soldiers. Turkish newspapers also quoted Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek as telling colleagues from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) yesterday that F-16 jets flew sorties up to 50 kilometers inside Iraq. Heavy artillery also pounded positions inside the Kurdish-administered north, he said.
All Turkish troops involved in the operations inside northern Iraq are now back in Turkey, Reuters also said, emphasizing that the sorties in question were of a kind that Turkish forces have been known to conduct in the past across the mountainous border, not the large-scale offensive that US and Iraqi authorities are trying to avert.
There was no official confirmation of these hot pursuit operations from the military, and the Anatolia news agency reported later in the day that warplanes taking off from a military base in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır bombed PKK targets along the border. Anatolia said fighter jets bombed and destroyed several PKK mountain positions in Şırnak, Hakkari, Siirt and Van provinces, which are on the borders with Iraq and Iran. Helicopter gunships also took part in the raids that followed the PKK’s Sunday attack in Turkey.
Another operation against the PKK, backed by air cover, was under way in the eastern province of Tunceli, Anatolia said, adding that suspected PKK terrorists detonated two remote-control bombs as soldiers combed a rural area for landmines.
The government last Sunday left it up to the General Staff to intervene in northern Iraq whenever the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) decided that launching an operation would be necessary, at a terror summit between the country’s top politicians and military officials. Meanwhile, F-16 fighter jets have begun attacking PKK positions inside northern Iraq, State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Çiçek was reported as having said on Tuesday.
While addressing the AK Party’s meeting on Tuesday, Çiçek urged caution, warning that in addition to the US and the EU, the Arab world was against Turkey’s operation, newspapers said. “We have to explain to the rest of the world that we are right. If we don’t, we might be in a position where we are wrong. At the moment, we are working to conduct good diplomacy -- or the price we’ll have to pay will be dear.”
The United States expressed concern yesterday over the Turkish raids. “We are concerned about the continuing skirmishes that are happening up there and terrorist attacks that are being launched by the PKK against the Turks,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “We continue to urge both sides to exercise restraint.”
Meanwhile, sources say the US will be supporting Turkey to prevent terrorists based in northern Iraq from fleeing into the southern parts of the country.
A source from the military said that Turkey had carried out regular strikes against PKK camps in northern Iraq until the year 2003: “This is why the PKK usually has groups of at most 10 or 15 people in its training camps. Even their attacks were staged with groups of eight to 10 people. They even had difficulty recruiting militants because of Turkey’s cross-border operations. However, in the past five years, no operations have been conducted in northern Iraq. This is why they have started training units of up to 200 people in their camps. In 1994, the PKK staged an attack with a group of people the size of a brigade. That happened in Sunday’s attack last week as well. Perhaps this cross-border move will not put an end to terrorism, but as long as the PKK camps are consistently assaulted, they won’t have a chance to attack in such large numbers. This is why a cross-border operation has to be continuous and regular.”