U.S. Helps Turkey Hit Rebel Kurds In Iraq
U.S. Helps Turkey Hit Rebel Kurds In Iraq
Intelligence Role Could Complicate Diplomacy
By Ann Scott Tyson and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 18, 2007; Page A01
The United States is providing Turkey with real-time
intelligence that has helped the Turkish military
target a series of attacks this month against Kurdish
separatists holed up in northern Iraq, including a
large airstrike on Sunday, according to Pentagon
U.S. military personnel have set up a center for
sharing intelligence in Ankara, the Turkish capital,
providing imagery and other immediate information
gathered from U.S. aircraft and unmanned drones flying
over the separatists' mountain redoubts, the officials
said. A senior administration official said the goal
of the U.S. program is to identify the movements and
activities of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which
is fighting to create an autonomous enclave in Turkey.
The United States is "essentially handing them their
targets," one U.S. military official said. The Turkish
military then decides whether to act on the
information and notifies the United States, the
"They said, 'We want to do something.' We said, 'Okay,
it's your decision,' " the official said yesterday,
although he denied that the United States had
explicitly approved the strikes.
Sunday's airstrikes provoked outrage in Baghdad,
particularly among Kurdish members of the country's
leadership. Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish
regional government, which administers three northern
Iraqi provinces, called the attack "a violation of
Iraq's sovereignty." He blamed the U.S. military,
which controls Iraqi airspace, for allowing Turkish
warplanes to cross the border. The Iraqi parliament
also condemned the attacks yesterday.
The American role in aiding Turkey, a NATO ally, could
complicate U.S. diplomatic initiatives in Iraq,
particularly efforts to push Iraqi political leaders
to enact legislation aimed at promoting political
The cooperation with Turkey also places the United
States in the position of aiding a country that
refused to allow U.S. forces to use its territory to
open a northern front against the government of Saddam
Hussein in 2003. It also alienates Iraq's Kurdish
minority, whose leaders strongly support the U.S.
troop presence in Iraq.
But persistent attacks in Turkey by PKK rebels
operating from bases in the Qandil mountains have
presented a thorny dilemma for U.S. policymakers.
Turkey has threatened to mount a full-scale,
cross-border incursion to clear out PKK camps in
northern Iraq. That could effectively open a new front
in the Iraq war and disrupt the flow of supplies to
the U.S. military in Iraq, which receives 70 percent
of its air cargo and a third of its fuel through
The intelligence cooperation comes as senior U.S.
military and Pentagon officials have engaged in talks
with their Turkish counterparts to produce a more
comprehensive strategy for combating the PKK,
according to a senior military official familiar with
the discussions. In addition to providing targets,
U.S. military officials said they have encouraged the
Turks to employ nonmilitary measures against the PKK
and to hold a dialogue with the Iraqi government.
U.S. intelligence allowed the Turkish military to
inflict what it called "significant" losses on a group
of scores of Kurdish rebels in Iraq in an operation on
Dec. 1. It was also decisive in another Turkish strike
on Sunday, when Iraqi officials said Turkish warplanes
pounded Kurdish villages deep in northern Iraq,
killing one woman and forcing hundreds of villagers to
flee their homes in the largest aerial assault from
Turkey this year.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates earlier stated that
a dearth of "actionable intelligence" was preventing
more aggressive actions against the separatists.
Senior military officials acknowledged that the PKK,
labeled a terrorist organization by the United States,
had not been not a priority for the U.S. military in
Iraq as it grappled with a persistent insurgency and
"We want to help the Turks with the PKK," Gates said
in October. "If we were to come up with specific
information, that we and the Iraqis would be prepared
to do the appropriate thing and . . . provide that
information," he said. Until now, however, officials
had not provided details of the intelligence provided
or how it was gathered. The officials, citing the
sensitivity of the subject, spoke only on the
condition of anonymity.
Turkey, according to U.S. officials, was eager to have
the information. "They wanted to go after them," a
U.S. military official said. The intelligence center
was set up in Ankara with the help of U.S. military
personnel. In addition, scarce U.S. military
reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles
were diverted from other parts of Iraq to search for
PKK locations in the mountainous area along Iraq's
border with Turkey.
Senior Pentagon officials, including Gen. David H.
Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq; Gen. James
E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff; and Gen. John Craddock, head of the U.S.
European Command, began talks last month with the
Turkish military on joint counterinsurgency efforts
against the PKK that would incorporate diplomatic,
political and financial measures.
The United States is also trying to establish a
regional dialogue among Turkey, Iraq and the
semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government.
U.S. officials said Kurdish regional forces in
northern Iraq recently closed PKK offices and set up
roadblocks in an attempt to cut off supplies to rebel
The high-level talks are a response to a pledge made
by President Bush to Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan on Nov. 5 to address a rash of
cross-border incursions into Turkey. Ankara deployed
up to 100,000 troops along Turkey's border with Iraq
after more than 40 soldiers and civilians were killed
in PKK attacks this fall.
Erdogan told reporters before a trip to the United
States last month that Turkey has "run out of patience
with the terrorist attacks being staged from northern
Iraq" and said relations between the United States and
Turkey were "undergoing a serious test."
But a senior U.S. administration official said the
"deal on intelligence" and military visits had created
"a sense that we're in a different phase of this
relationship. The Turks want to see how this works."
Special correspondent Zaid Sabah in Baghdad
contributed to this report.