US not told of Turkish air strikes in n. Iraq

Americans have been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

By
December 18, 2007 11:05
3 minute read.
US not told of Turkish air strikes in n. Iraq

Turkish troops aim 224.8. (photo credit: AP)

 
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US military commanders in Iraq didn't know Turkey was sending warplanes to bomb in northern Iraq until the planes had already crossed the border, said defense and diplomatic officials, who were angered about being left in the dark. Americans have been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. And a "coordination center" has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information, two officials said Tuesday. But defense and diplomatic officials in Washington and Baghdad told The Associated Press that US commanders in Iraq knew nothing about Sunday's attack until it was already under way. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. Their comments follow complaints by Iraqi leaders Monday that Turkey hadn't coordinated with Baghdad before sending bombers to strike targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. It was left to the Americans to inform Iraqi government officials of Sunday's incursion, one US official said. No problem occurred with a conflict in the air space, but might have as both military and commercial flights go through northern Iraq, the officials said. US diplomatic officials also expressed irritation that the Turks had not provided them or the Iraqis with advance notice of the operation and said they had made their displeasure clear. One senior State Department official said the Turks informed the United States of the airstrikes through military channels in Ankara but not until after the first wave of planes was already in the air. When questioned about the late notification, the Turks replied they were chasing PKK rebels and there had not been time, according to the official. "They said it was hot pursuit," the official told the AP. "But our message to them was that they need to make sure we're aware of what they're doing and that we find out about it before the guns start firing." "There are supposed to be coordinating mechanisms for this kind of thing with us and the Iraqis, and whatever happens in the heat of the moment, they have to tell us in a reasonable and timely manner," the official added. "We have told them it would be extremely helpful if they were more forthcoming on the notification." Dozens of planes reportedly were involved in the incursion, which would be the largest aerial attack in years against the outlawed rebel separatist group. Other reports put the number of planes at a much smaller number. It was unclear whether any U.S. radar or surveillance systems became aware of the first wave of planes before official notification reached Baghdad. The Iraqi parliament on Monday had condemned the bombing, calling it an "outrageous" violation of Iraq's sovereignty that killed innocent civilians. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his government thought Turkey would coordinate with it before striking the rebels inside Iraq. He also indicated that the fact Iraqi civilians were killed showed Turkey had not hit the correct target. In a visit to Iraq on Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it clear the United States supports efforts to quash any rebel movement, but she said it was a "Turkish decision" to act. The Turkish army also sent soldiers about 1.5 miles into northern Iraq in an overnight operation on Tuesday, Kurdish officials said. Kurdish officials said the Turkish troops left Iraq about 15 hours later. In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said she would not comment on Tuesday's operation until there was more concrete information about how far the incursion went, how many people were involved and other details. "Of course we are coordinating with the Turkish and Iraqi authorities in the area," Perino said. "The PKK is a threat to Turkey, to Iraq and to the United States. And so we continue to share information, share intelligence." Turkey recently had attacked the area with ground-based artillery and helicopters and there have been some unconfirmed reports of airstrikes by warplanes. Sunday's attack came a month after the U.S. promised to share intelligence with Turkey to help combat the PKK. Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Iraq. In October, the Turkish parliament voted in favor of authorizing the government to order a cross-border operation against the group. Turkish forces periodically have shelled across the Iraqi border, and have sometimes carried out "hot pursuits" - limited raids on the Iraqi side that sometimes last only a few hours. The United States and Iraq have, however, called on Turkey to avoid a major operation, fearing such an offensive could disrupt one of the most tranquil regions in Iraq.

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