Even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Turkey to wrap up its military operation in northern Iraq in the coming days, Turkish diplomats say the incursion will continue as long as the Turkish military deems necessary.
"We have certain targets planned for this operation," says Nabi Sensoy, Turkey's ambassador to the United States. "When these targets are achieved, we will stop this operation and return." He declined to be more specific about the time frame, saying it would depend on what happens on the ground.
Turkish forces entered northern Iraq last Thursday to root out strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a militant group that has carried out two decades of terrorist attacks in Turkey. Turkish officials claim that its forces have killed some 230 rebel fighters, while 27 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the operation, which has been condemned by Iraq's government.
Before arriving in Turkey today for a formal visit, Gates warned Turkish officials to be "mindful of Iraqi sovereignty" and end the military operation in the coming week or two.
But Sensoy said that U.S. officials have been supportive of Turkey's efforts to target the PKK, which he blamed for some 30,000 deaths in Turkey over the past decade. "That is why the two counties have been sharing what is called actionable intelligence," he said. "As far as I know, the Turkish side is satisfied with the level of cooperation now." He added that Turkey informed President Bush and the U.S. military before launching the operation last week.
Sensoy also criticized the regional Kurdish government for supporting the PKK by providing it with weapons and other kinds of logistical support. "I would have really liked to see that this presence in northern Iraq is not tolerated by the Iraqi authorities," he said. "If our operations are successful, I think it will be a big contribution to the stability of the whole country of Iraq at the same time."
Baghdad, for its part, has condemned both the PKK and the Turkish incursion.