Turkey kills 20 guerrillas, violence escalates

As conflict worsens, Turkish foreign minister says 'all options' on table to deal with PKK.
Turkey kills 20 guerrillas, violence escalates
By Joel Bowman
Sun 28 Oct 2007 05:53 PM

Turkish soldiers killed 20 Kurdish guerrillas in clashes in eastern Turkey on Sunday, army sources said.

There was no information on any army casualties. Earlier, army sources had said an 8,000 troop-strong operation had been launched in central-eastern Turkey.

The clash is just the latest in a worsening conflict between the Turkish military and the PKK that has claimed the lives of 42 Turkish soldiers, police and civilians and many Kurdish fighters.

The situation threatens to escalate further, with Ankara amassing troops on Iraq’s border in preparation for possible incursion into the north of the country to tackle PKK guerrillas based there.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on Sunday the country is considering "all options" to deal with the PKK, including military action, reported newswire Bloomberg.

"Our patience has come to an end," Babacan told a press conference in Tehran following talks with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

However, any decision on whether to launch a cross-border offensive against the PKK will delayed until after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with US President George W. Bush on November 5 in Washington, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, Turkey’s military chief, said on Friday.

Some 100,000 Turkish troops lining the border of with northern Iraq will be awaiting the outcome of the meeting, as will an estimated 4,000 members of the PKK camped out just over the border.

Turkey mobilised the troops after the PKK, labelled a terrorist organisation by both the US and Europe, launched a series of cross-border attacks on southern Turkey.

The attacks were a major setback for the prime ministers of Iraq and Turkey, who only last month agreed to join forces in order to stamp out on the PKK.

Since the attacks, the Bush administration has urged Ankara and Bagdad to resolve their disputes peacefully and directly.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress she sees this as “an opportunity for the Iraqis and the Turks to work together”.

But efforts in recent weeks by US officials working in Washington, Ankara and Baghdad have failed to produce the desired diplomatic resolution.

According to Turkish officials, a meeting between Iraqi and Turkish defense and security officials in Ankara just two days ago yielded no discernable progress.

Maintaining the precarious balance of power in the region is of critical importance to the US as they continue to struggle with ground operations in Iraq.

The US has been vocal in identifying the porous borders of both Iran and Syria as major impediments to their success in the region, and problems on a third front are unlikely to help the situation.

The sensitive and convoluted issue of Kurdistan and its sovereignty has long been a point of violent contention locally. Only recently, however, has it received global attention.

While both sides await word from the meeting in Washington, tensions continue to mount.

“If Turkey conducts any attack or operation against Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurds anywhere, we are prepared to defend ourselves,” said an unnamed PKK leader, quoted newswire AFP. “We will spread resistance throughout Turkey and Kurdish areas in Iraq, Iran and Syria.”

For Turkey, the fact that the US has not more forcefully reprimanded the PKK for its actions is a major source of discontent.

When asked in a video conference with Pentagon reporters what he was planning to do about the Kurdish militants, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commander of US forces in northern Iraq, responded: “Absolutely nothing.”

Turkey will no doubt be hoping for a more substantive position from President Bush come next week’s meeting.

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