ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey will wait until the prime minister visits Washington in November before deciding on a cross-border offensive into northern Iraq, the country's top military commander said Friday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets President Bush in Washington on Nov. 5. "The armed forces will carry out a cross-border offensive when assigned," private NTV quoted Gen. Yasar Buyukanit as saying. "Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to the United States is very important, we will wait for his return."
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said the government demanded the extradition of Kurdish rebel leaders based in Iraq's north. Amid talks with a visiting Iraqi delegation, Turkish war planes and helicopters reportedly bombed separatist hideouts within the country's borders.
Despite repeated Turkish demands for more action from both the United States and Iraq, U.S. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said he plans to do "absolutely nothing" to counter Kurdish rebels operating from the region.
The top American military commander in northern Iraq said it is not the U.S. military's responsibility to act. Mixon also said that he has sent no additional American troops to the area and he is not tracking hiding places or logistics activities of the rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK.
He also has not seen Kurdish authorities move against the rebels either, Mixon told Pentagon reporters by videoconference from a U.S. base near Tikrit in northern Iraq.
"I have not seen any overt action (by Kurdish authorities) ... But those are the types of activities that are managed and coordinated at higher levels than my own," he said.
Iraqi spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the visiting delegation proposed reinforcing existing outposts near the Turkish border and setting up new ones to improve border security and opening them to inspection.
The delegation also suggested that Turkey, Iraq and the United States discuss not only political but military measures against the rebels.
The delegation also said Iraq would find and hand over eight missing Turkish soldiers — allegedly held by Kurdish rebels as hostages — if they were in Iraq, al-Askari said.
But comments from a spokesman for the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq underscored the difficulty of taking action against the rebels.
"I do not know how we are supposed to arrest people who are unknown to us and who might be situated in the mountainous area near the border or they might be in Turkey itself," said the spokesman, Jamal Abdullah. "Kurdistan's government is not part of the dispute between PKK and Turkey."
CNN-Turk television, citing unnamed Iraqi officials, said Turkey asked for the extradition of 153 PKK members. The station also said Iraqi officials claimed they could hand over at least 18 PKK members.
The state-run Anatolia news agency reported that Turkish aircraft attacked suspected rebel positions that were detected during reconnaissance flights. There were no reports of guerrilla casualties.
Cicek reiterated Turkey's determination to carry out an offensive if the U.S.-backed Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish administration, which Turkey accuses of turning a blind eye to activities of the Kurdish rebels in the territory, do not crack down on the rebel group.
"We will use our right stemming from international laws until the end," Cicek said.
He said Turkey's struggles with the PKK go beyond the rebel group's estimated 3,000 to 3,500 members.
"Today, the PKK is a group that receives the most support, logistical aid, weapons and propaganda support from several countries," he said, without naming any countries.
Cicek, talking about past military incursions, also said the main rebel base was deep inside Iraq on Mount Qandil and was hard to target in a ground offensive.
Kurdish attacks have claimed 42 lives in Turkey this month alone. If the U.S. and Iraq do not act soon, Turkey has threatened to send troops across the border, saying it will not be deterred by Washington's fears of destabilizing a relatively secure region on Iraq.