WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq said Friday he plans to do "absolutely nothing" to counter Kurdish rebels operating from the region and staging deadly cross-border attacks into Turkey.
Turkish leaders have threatened a large-scale offensive into Iraq if U.S. and Iraqi authorities don't stop the rebels.
Amid feverish diplomatic efforts to forestall an incursion, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said it's not the U.S. military's responsibility to act. He said that he's sent no additional U.S. troops to the area and he's not tracking hiding places or logistics activities of the PKK rebels.
He also has not seen Kurdish Iraqi 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 ... But those are the types of activities that are managed and coordinated at higher levels than my own," he said.
Mixon did his best in a half-hour news conference to rebuff the idea that the U.S. has any military role to play in the spiraling crisis between Turkey and Iraq.
Asked if he has detected PKK supply lines running through his area that Iraqi authorities could curtail, he said, "That would be speculation ... I don't track the specific locations of the PKK. So you'd have to ask somebody else."
Mixon would not even talk in general about the PKK's fighting abilities. He was asked why such a small group of some 3,500 guerrillas is considered so effective, tenacious and threatening to Turkey.
"I have no idea," he said. "You'll have to ask somebody in the Turkish government."
Asked if he is planning any action against the rebels, Mixon said:
Does he think he has any responsibility to try to avoid a Turkish incursion into the north? "I have not been given any requirements or any responsibility for that," he said.
But if terrorists are operating in his region, came another question, why not get involved?
"Let me put it to you very clearly," he answered. The provincial Kurdish authorities have their own Peshmerga militia, Mixon and, "it's their responsibility" in three northern provinces of Iraq.
He said no one has specifically told him to ignore the rebel problem, "But I hadn't been given instructions to do anything about it, either."
If he were ordered to do something, would he have enough U.S. troops?
"That's a hypothetical question," Mixon replied. "I haven't studied it.
"I haven't been given any instructions that would even vaguely resemble what you just mentioned," the general said. "So I don't see any sense in talking about it."