Turkey: U.S. Will Not Stop Iraq Incursion; 64 Suspected Rebels Killed
(FOX) - Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that U.S. objections would not stop Turkey from crossing into Iraq to eliminate Kurdish rebels. The Turkish military said it had killed more than 30 insurgents who were poised to launch an attack, near the Iraqi border.
President Abdullah Gul said Turkey is running out of patience with the Kurdish separatist attacks. A steady stream of U.S.-made Turkish fighter jets roared into the sky near the Iraqi border, apparently loaded with bombs.
The Turkish military said it had spotted a "group of terrorists" near a military outpost in the province of Semdinli close to the border with Iraq on Tuesday and fired on them with tanks, artillery and other heavy weaponry. It said the group had been preparing for an attack.
In a statement posted on its Web site, the military said the troops kept firing on the group as they escaped toward the Iraqi territory. The report increased the official number of rebels killed since Sunday to at least 64.
The rebels denied any casualties, calling the military statement a "lie," the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency said.
The Bush administration is urging Turkey not to launch an incursion that would destabilize Iraq's autonomous Kurdish north, Iraq's most stable region. But Erdogan said the U.S. desire to protect the north would not hinder Turkey's fight against the rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who use mountain bases in Iraq to rest, train and get supplies in relative safety before returning to Turkey to carry out attacks against government forces in the heavily Kurdish southeast.
The Bush administration "might wish that we do not carry out a cross-border offensive, but we make the decision on what we have to do," Erdogan said during a visit to Romania. "We have taken necessary steps in this struggle so far, and now we are forced to take this step and we will take it."
He said that the U.S. should repay Turkish assistance for the invasion of Afghanistan with support for Turkey's struggle against the Kurdish rebels, who want autonomy in the southeast.
"Right now, as a strategic ally, the USA is in a position to support us. We have supported them in Afghanistan," he said.
An AP Television News cameraman saw two F-4 fighter jets flying low along the Iraqi border on an apparent reconnaissance mission, a day after warplanes reportedly pounded rebel positions along the border.
Fighter jets take off with their bomb-holding compartments' hatches closed when loaded. AP Television News cameramen said at least four Turkish F-16 warplanes left their air base in Diyarbakir on Thursday with closed hatches but returned with the hatches open. A batch of F-16s had taken off from the same base earlier in the day, as well.
More than 10 attack helicopters were seen flying in Hakkari province toward the Turkish-Iraqi border as government-paid village guards in camouflage, wielding AK-47s, patrolled roads leading to the border day and night.
The pro-Kurdish news agency Firat confirmed military operations near the border in Sirnak province have continued since Wednesday.
"We are totally determined to take all the necessary steps to end this threat," Gul said in Ankara before a visit by a delegation of high-level Iraqi officials. The officials arrived Thursday evening but did not talk to reporters.
Turkey is "expecting them to come with concrete proposals - otherwise, the visit will have no meaning," Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said.
The delegation is headed by Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi and will include Minister of State for National Security Sherwan al-Waili, said Yassin Majid, an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.