US, Turkey streamline coordination plans
( AP ) - U.S. and Turkish military officials were working Wednesday to streamline procedures for any future attacks against rebels in northern Iraq after top American officials in Baghdad were angered about how Sunday's Turkish bombing unfolded.
Americans have been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after the Kurdish rebels, and a "coordination center" has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information, officials have said.
But State Department and Defense Department officials in Washington and Baghdad said top U.S. commanders in Iraq didn't know about the incursion until the first of two waves of Turkish planes were already on their way - either crossing the border or already over it.
The Turkish military did not inform the American military as quickly as had been agreed. That meant the U.S. had to rush to clear air space for the incursion, two defense officials and a State Department official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
One Washington official said the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, was angered by the development. Another said American diplomats complained to the Turks about it.
The Turks replied they were chasing rebels and there hadn't been time for notification earlier, according to a senior State Department official. "They said it was hot pursuit," the U.S. official said.
"There are supposed to be coordinating mechanisms for this kind of thing with us and the Iraqis, and whatever happens in the heat of the moment, they have to tell us in a reasonable and timely manner," the official added. "We have told them it would be extremely helpful if they were more forthcoming on the notification."
Turkey's ambassador to Washington, Nabi Sensoy, said Wednesday the strike against targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was made possible by intelligence from the U.S.
"There's no doubt that this operation was due to the information shared by the United States of America," he said at a news conference.
Under an agreement between the countries, Turkey is to analyze U.S. data, decide whether it will take military action, then notify the U.S. of its plan, one official said. Sensoy said he was "not aware of any direct complaint" over the timing of Turkey's notification.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman Wednesday disputed there was a problem, saying "the right people knew at the time." He declined to elaborate.
None of the officials gave details about precisely what procedures had been agreed to. But one noted that the process is complex because it involves Turkey, Iraq, the U.S. and potentially neighboring governments such as Tehran because some PKK camps are near the Iranian border.
For the U.S. alone, the issue cuts across two military commands - the European Command that takes in Turkey and the Central Command, which is managing the war in Iraq.
"It starts in Ankara (with the Turkish military informing the U.S. military) ... then goes up the chain, then the air space is de-conflicted," or cleared, one Washington official said. "It was the Turks who on the first go-around did not give the desired lead time."
It was the American military in Baghdad that ended up notifying the Iraqi government that planes had already been sent to strike rebel positions inside their country.
The Iraqi parliament on Monday condemned the bombing, calling it an "outrageous" violation of Iraq's sovereignty that killed innocent civilians.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his government thought Turkey would coordinate with it before striking the rebels inside Iraq.
Sensoy dismissed the Iraqi complaint, saying Turkey has been unhappy with cooperation from Iraq's central government and its regional Kurdish government in the north. The process for coordinating among the United States, Iraq and Turkey is not working, he said.
Some reports said there were up to 50 planes involved Sunday, which would be the largest aerial attack in years against the outlawed rebel separatist group. Others put the number at a much less and Sensoy said there were 24 aircraft.
The Turkish army also sent soldiers about 1.5 miles into northern Iraq in an overnight operation on Tuesday, Kurdish officials said. Kurdish officials said the Turkish troops left Iraq about 15 hours later.