Turkish ground troops who entered northern Iraq on Feb. 21 for a "clean-up operation" of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases, many of which have been destroyed in the Turkish air raids launched since Dec. 16 of last year, are expected to return home in a couple of weeks' time, a well-informed Turkish government official has said.
Depending on the analysis of the level of damage to the PKK infrastructure in the nearby camps, where operations are speculated to have been taking place, as well as the calculations to be made on the assault's political implications, Turkish ground troops may go back for another offensive after their return, claimed the same source.
To avert any possible negative political repercussions of the ground offensive in northern Iraq, such as increased criticism leveled at Ankara over its incursion, as well as to prevent any possible escalation of tension with the Iraqi Kurds, Turkey plans to return to the area in a couple of weeks' time, he said. Though there have been conflicting reports carried by the local media over the size and the duration of the Turkish troops' operation in northern Iraq, the well-placed Turkish government source told Today's Zaman that the operations were taking place in a limited geographical zone with around 3,000 troops.
Due to the US's real time intelligence supply to Turkey, highly critical in pinpointing the PKK targets accurately, Turkey did not have to send a large number of troops to northern Iraq.
"During the operations, for example, that took place in 1995 and 1997 with around 35,000 Turkish troops that were dispatched to northern Iraq, Turkey did not have the capability to find the PKK targets accurately. It did not have detailed, almost surgical information about the PKK's hideouts. Consequently more troops were needed at the time. But most definitely the latest operations are taking place more logically and are based on the US's real time intelligence," the same source asserted.
Though not confirmed, the Turkish media reported yesterday that Turkish troops had encircled the Zap camp, around 30 kilometers as the crow flies across the Turkish border.
It is hard to know what that corresponds to in this mountainous terrain. But Turkish military sources told Today's Zaman that the operations have been concentrated in an area of around 16 kilometers inside northern Iraq.
The biggest PKK camps near the Turkish border are in Hakurk and in Zap, where operations are said to be currently taking place.
In order to prevent any major political problems that may emerge, Turkish ground troops are believed to be refraining from moving toward the Kandil Mountains, around 150 kilometers from the Turkish border and located between the Iraqi and Iranian borders, where the PKK reportedly has the biggest camps.
Turkey informs US in advance
As was the case with the Turkish air raids that started last December against PKK hideouts in northern Iraq, Turkey informed the US in advance of the ground operations so that Washington could avoid any clashes.
Due to the nature of the ground operations during which things might go wrong, such as civilian casualties or friendly fire, Turkey and the US spent some time on coordinating so that ground conflicts could be prevented, said the Turkish government source.
Turkey has been providing the US with the list of possible targets, and through the real time intelligence, US experts based in Ankara are supplying the Turkish military with rather accurate locations of the PKK hideouts.
Attacks catch PKK by surprise
Against expectations, the Turkish ground offensive came earlier than planned -- in late February instead of some time in March -- with the primary goal of catching the PKK by surprise.
The timing was good, said a Turkish military expert, in the sense that the PKK terrorists should have been present and hiding in their caves for fear of Turkish air strikes following a number of aerial strikes launched since December 2007.
PKK terrorists, thus, were unable to escape. Suppose some intended to escape from their caves, the odds are that local Iraqi Kurds might not have helped them for fear of becoming Turkish troops' targets, suggested a Turkish terrorism expert.
Hence the Turkish military's estimate that around 153 PKK terrorists were killed since the beginning of the ground assault might be accurate since the majority of terrorists were caught by surprise in the ground attacks, said the same expert. During the massive 1995 Turkish cross-border offensive inside northern Iraq, which used around 35,000 troops, the majority of the PKK terrorists had already left the camps as, among other things, the large number of troops were more visible unlike this small but efficient number of units supported by accurate intelligence, he asserted.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 27 Şubat 2008, 09:40