Turkey presses on with cross border offensive

Fighter jets pound rebel positions in northern Iraq despite calls for quick withdrawal.
Turkey presses on with cross border offensive
OFFENSIVE CONTINUES: Turkey has pressed a head with its offensive against rebels in northern Iraq. (Getty Images)
Mon 25 Feb 2008 05:21 PM

Turkish fighter jets pounded Kurdish rebel positions Monday in northern Iraq, as troops pressed on with a cross-border offensive despite Iraqi and US calls for a quick withdrawal.

Members of the security forces in the autonomous Kurdish north of Iraq said the raids began around 10.00pm (2000 GMT) Sunday and continued overnight in and around Hakurk, a prominent stronghold of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) some 20 kilometres from the Turkish frontier.

The Turkish army released new footage of the incursion, showing soldiers in white camouflage filing into a Sikorsky helicopter that took off from an unnamed base along with Cobra attack helicopters.

Soldiers carrying machine guns and assault rifles could be seen advancing in deep snow on rugged hills.

The footage also showed a convoy of military vehicles transporting soldiers and black-and-white images of unspecified targets destroyed by air strikes.

As the fighting continued, Turkish President Abdullah Gul postponed a planned four-day trip to Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo this week, a spokesman from his office told newswire AFP.

"The president wished to be in Ankara while the operation is still underway," he said hours after the president was briefed on the progress of the incursion at the army headquarters in Ankara.

The Turkish military says it has killed at least 112 rebels since launching the incursion against PKK bases in northern Iraq on Thursday evening.

It puts its own losses at 15 so far, including two pilots of a helicopter that the army said had been "destroyed", without specifying whether it had been shot down.

The PKK claimed to have downed an attack helicopter Sunday in a border region near the town of Amadiyah.

A senior PKK leader said Monday on the internet site of the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency that the rebels had killed 81 soldiers so far.

A statement from the general staff said the rebels were fleeing southwards and issued a stern warning to Kurdish groups in the region not to afford them shelter.

"Local Iraqi groups are expected to prevent members of the terrorist organisation - the biggest enemy of regional peace and stability - from entering their region and being given protection there," the statement said.

Ankara accuses the autonomous region's Kurdish administration of tolerating PKK militants on its soil and even supplying them with weapons and ammunition.

Baghdad responded by urging Turkey "to withdraw its forces from Iraqi soil as soon possible", echoing a similar call by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

"The government of Iraq calls on Turkey to respect its sovereignty and unity and considers that the unilateral operation across the border is a threat to the region," a statement by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's government said.

Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds are both US allies, and the prospect of armed confrontation between the two has been a cause of concern for Washington as it seeks to avoid a relatively stable area of Iraq being thrown into chaos.

Turkish troops stormed into northern Iraq Thursday evening in the largest cross-border offensive in years against PKK hideouts in the region, bombing rebel positions and fighting the militants on the ground.

A convoy of 100 vehicles brought some of the advance troops back home Sunday via Cukurca, footage broadcast on NTV showed.

The soldiers could be seen waving and making the "V" for victory sign.

Ankara says an estimated 4,000 PKK rebels are holed up in northern Iraq and use the region as a springboard for attacks in Turkey as part of their campaign for self-rule in Kurdish-majority southeast Turkey.

The conflict has claimed more than 37,000 lives since the PKK took up arms in 1984.

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