Turkish army chief insists on incursion into Iraq

The head of the Turkish armed forces insisted Wednesday on the need for a military incursion into northern Iraq to hunt down Turkish Kurd rebels based there, but said he needed the government’s green light to do so.“I cannot say that we will go in and finish off the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party], but a cross-border operation will deliver a big blow,” against the rebel group, Chief of General Staff General Yasar Buyukanit told a televised news conference at a commando training camp in the southwestern town of Egirdir.

“It will be very useful,” he said. Buyukanit said the army needed a “political directive” and guidelines from the government for such an operation.

“All cross-border operations have a political target,” Buyukanit said. “Military planning starts with a political directive.” “It is one thing to go into northern Iraq to fight PKK rebels or, for example, it is another thing to come under attack from local Kurds while doing that.

“If the political target is determined, the armed forces would determine what kind of force it needs and seek formal approval,” Buyukanit said.

Since April, Buyukanit has been calling for a strike against PKK rebels based in Kurdish-controlled, autonomous northern Iraq where, Ankara says, the PKK enjoys free movement and obtains weapons and explosives for cross-border attacks against Turkish targets.

More than 37,000 people have died since 1984 when the PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, took up arms for self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish east and southeast.

Turkey also accuses local Kurdish leaders of tolerating and even supporting the PKK. The head of the Turkish land forces, Ilker basbug, said Wednesday that there were some 5,000 PKK rebels in total, an estimated 2,800 to 3,100 of them based in northern Iraq.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not ruled out an incursion, but said Ankara should focus on fighting the rebels inside Turkey and seek dialogue with Baghdad to resolve the issue. Washington opposes Turkish military action in northern Iraq, wary that this could destabilise the relatively peaceful region of conflict-torn Iraq and further strain tense ties between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds, staunch allies of the US.

Buyukanit, stressed that armed force was not the answer to eliminating the PKK and called on the government to introduce measures to deal with the “economic, social and psychological aspects of terrorism.” “You cannot expect the struggle against terrorism to suceed when it is reduced to only armed struggle,” Buyukanit said.

He said the PKK has an extensive network of collaborators and sympathisers providing logistical support and said the rebels receive substantial political, financial and weapons support from abroad.

“There are some among our allies who provide direct or indirect support to the PKK. This negatively affects our struggle,” Buyukanit said.

To combat the PKK more efficiently, Basbug said, the army will transform its six existing commando brigades into professional units from the end of 2009, putting an end to the practice of sending conscripts to those units.

The announcement followed a wave of public outrage over the deaths in clashes with the PKK of several young conscripts, raising questions on how well soldiers sent to the combat zone are trained.

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