ANKARA, Turkey – The U.S. will likely deploy some Predator drones on Turkish soil, the Turkish prime minister said Friday. Turkey has been pressing for the drones in an escalating war against Kurdish rebels.
The U.S. shares drone surveillance data from northern Iraq with Ankara to aid its fight against Kurdish rebels who have bases in Iraq. The two countries have been negotiating the possible deployment of Predator drones after the U.S. leaves Iraq.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday the two allies have agreed "in principle" over the deployment of the drones in Turkey, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
Turkey has offered to purchase or lease the drones, Erdogan said.
"Our negotiations will continue," Anatolia quoted Erdogan as saying. "The developments are moving toward an agreement."
Turkey is operating Israeli-made Heron drones against the Kurdish rebels who have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast since 1984. They have stepped up attacks on security forces in recent months, who have retaliated with airstrikes in the rebels' suspected bases in northern Iraq.
Paramilitary police on Friday defused a powerful bomb believed to be planted by Kurdish rebels on a bridge in the country's southeast, and police also averted a possible attack in western resort town popular with foreign tourists.
The attempted attacks came a day after police detained a would-be Kurdish rebel bomber.
Kurdish rebels have dramatically stepped up attacks in Turkey. Friday's thwarted attack stoked more fears a day after a Kurdish militant group, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack near a school in the Turkish capital of Ankara that killed three people and wounded 34 on Tuesday.
The paramilitary police, acting on a tip, discovered 125 kilograms (275 pounds) of booby-trapped explosives planted on a highway bridge between the cities of Bingol and Elazig in the country's southeast. The explosives, containing ammonium nitrate and C-4 plastic explosives, were stashed in four large gas canisters as well as a pressure cooker, the governor's office in Bingol said.
The foiled attack came a day after anti-terror squads captured a suspected bomber in a raid in the western holiday town of Bodrum, seizing 2.1 kilograms (4.6 pounds) of plastic explosives, the Hurriyet newspaper reported, citing unnamed police sources. The suspect was believed to be behind a small bomb attack in the Mediterranean resort town of Kemer that wounded 10 people, including four Swedes on Aug. 28, according to Hurriyet.
Police refused to comment on the alleged arrest.
The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, which also claimed the bombing in Kemer, had vowed more assaults in retaliation for what it called the Turkish government's "war" against the rebels, according to pro-Kurdish Firat news agency.
"Our cross-border operations will continue in the same way as long as there is terrorism," Erdogan said.
Erdogan also hinted further cooperation with neighboring Iran against the Kurdish rebels. A wing of the Kurdish rebel group is also fighting against Tehran from their main base on Qandil Mountain, which sits on the Iranian-Iraqi border.
"There are steps that we can jointly take together with Iran," Erdogan said. "We already have intelligence sharing."
Erdogan said Turkey would only halt its military drive if the rebels "lay down their arms."
The prime minister last week confirmed reports that government officials met with representatives of Kurdish rebels in Europe. The secret talks, which apparently failed to produce any tangible results, came to light after some websites this week posted an audio recording from an alleged 2010 meeting.
The rebels intensified their attacks on Turkish targets in mid-July, accusing the government of not responding to their demands, including autonomy and education in Kurdish language -- which Turkey fears could divide the country along ethnic lines.
In a nationwide crackdown on alleged Kurdish rebel sympathizers, police on Friday detained the mayors of the towns of Sirnak, Silopi and Idil in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, increasing the number of Kurdish suspects captured so far this week to more than 80, NTV television reported.