Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Turkey moves 50,000 troops to Iraq border

ANKARA — Turkey has been building troop levels along the border with Iraq.
Turkish sources said the military has amassed 50,000 soldiers in the Sirnik province along the Iraqi border. They said the move was ordered by Chief of Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit to prepare for any invasion of northern Iraq, the stronghold of the Kurdish Workers Party.

The sources said this was the largest Turkish military buildup in nearly a decade. They said the ground force was supported by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, main battle tanks, armored vehicles and artillery.

On May 19, a Turkish soldier was killed and four others were injured in battles with the PKK. Turkish security sources said the clashes took place during a Turkish military operation near the city of Diyarbakir.
The Turkish daily Zaman reported on May 17 that the military force would prevent PKK fighters from infiltrating Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq. The newspaper said seven PKK operatives were killed and 20 others were arrested during operations in May.

The sources said Ankara intends to increase military operations along the Iraqi border over the next few months. They said the military plan was supported by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan ahead of national elections on July 22.

Turkey has been pressing Iraq and the United States to eliminate the PKK presence in the Kandil mountains. The sources said Iraqi Kurdish leaders have pledged to terminate cross-border PKK operations and detain insurgency leaders.

Turkey's Vatan daily quoted a senior military official on May 18 as saying that the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish government could extradite senior PKK commanders in an effort to avoid a Turkish invasion. The commanders were identified as PKK military chief Murat Karailan and a member of the high command, Jamil Beyk.

The military source said Beyk and Karailan have been deemed expendable by the PKK and Iraqi Kurdish leadership.

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