The Turkish military launched what it called an "intensive intervention" into northern Iraq over the weekend, and indicates more force may yet be brought against any PKK members based in the mountainous border area.
In the Beginning...
The military said it was authorized by the government on November 28 to begin cross border operations and that the first one was launched on December 1, outlined in a statement posted on the Turkish General Staff's website.
"The operations target only the PKK KONGRA-GEL terrorist organization, they are not against people living in north of Iraq nor against local groups unless they commit an act of aggression against the Turkish Armed Forces...
"In accordance with intelligence activities on December 1, a group of 50-60 terrorists were detected inside Iraqi territory in southeast of Cukurca town of southeastern province of Hakkari," General Staff statement said.
The statement said military units fired on terrorists and the terrorist group suffered significant losses.
The Turkish media is largely non-specific on details about the operation, though some specifically report the attack came only from the air. However, Reuters talked to a Turkish military official who said about 100 special forces troops had crossed into Iraq while long-range artillery and up to six helicopters bombed a PKK camp, after spotting a group of 50-60 rebels 20 km (12 miles) inside the border.
Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency, reported that Turkish army units shelled the Dola Mir and Dola Merge areas of northern Iraq on Saturday. A Firat reporter said the areas are across the border from Cukurca.
"No pinpoint operation or military movement was observed after the shelling that lasted nearly two hours," Firat said, citing Iraqi Kurdish officials.
Turkish forces have periodically shelled suspected PKK positions across the Iraqi border, and have sometimes carried out "hot pursuits" raids, which typically last only a few hours.
A leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has confirmed Turkish helicopters attacked inside Iraq but insists his fighters suffered no casualties.
AFP reports that the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had initially denied any attack when Turkey had first announced it, though eventually confirmed.
"There were helicopter strikes along the (Iraq-Turkey) border, but we suffered no casualties," the commander told AFP Sunday.
Speaking by telephone, the rebel leader said the PKK is "keen to resolve the crisis" and urged Ankara to consider a conditional ceasefire offer made by the group in October after its guerrillas ambushed and killed 12 Turkish soldiers.
With the start of the cross-border operation, the Turkish military has imposed a total communication blackout on units located in strategic points, with all forces in the region told to be on alert against reprisal attacks by the PKK, reported Doğan news agency (DHA) Sunday.
The statement on the general staff's Website also added that "If necessary, there will be other operations in the region, using other means," and Today's Zaman reports Turkish leaders are emphasizing their support of the military's leadership on the issue.
"(The army) was granted a mandate. This mandate is being used when (the army) deems it necessary," President Abdullah Gül told reporters Sunday.
Asked whether future operations would also pinpoint operations similar to the one launched on Saturday, government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek said in a televised interview that the military would decide on the timing and scope of future operations according to need.
"If one operation is enough to get the desired result, then one is enough. If 10 operations are required, then 10 operations will be conducted," Çiçek told private Kanal 24 television.
Another statement on the General Staff's website quoted by Turkish Daily News the military added that the operations will continue "depending on the intelligence provided.”
None of the military's statements specifically cite any contribution by the United States, though the Turkish media is widely presuming that the recent shift in intelligence assistance by the US has contributed to the timing of the border incursion.
Turkish Parliament voted to authorize the government to order a cross-border operation against the PKK on Oct. 17.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held talks with President Bush on Nov. 5 in the White House, earning a pledge of closer cooperation, including the sharing of "real-time" intelligence, from the US leader.
Recent weeks saw the successive visits of three top US generals to Ankara, Gen. Bantz Craddock, the commander of US forces in Europe, Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of US forces in Iraq, and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
According to Today's Zaman, their visits were aimed at preparing the technical infrastructure to allow Turkish officers to learn how to use US intelligence information supplied to Turkey.
The New Anatolian reports the the military and the government had been in discussions in recent weeks concerning the scope of a possible operation against the PKK, but a top Turkish general had said the military was awaiting a government directive on how to proceed against the group.
Erdoğan announced just Friday that the government had granted authorization to its military to launch a cross-border offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq at any time.