ANKARA, Turkey – Tens of thousands of Turkish troops were poised Tuesday on the border with Iraq awaiting the order to attack Kurdish fighters, and President Abdullah Gul said the country will do “what it believes to be right” to tame the rebels.
But with winter rapidly approaching in the mountainous region, and pressure from the U.S. to avoid an all-out cross-border incursion, officials and experts said Turkey will likely be looking toward a limited offensive involving raids and aerial assaults.
Several possibilities are currently being discussed, including F-16 strikes on rebel positions, helicopter raids and special forces missions, according to a government official familiar with the planning.
“The area is heavily mined and a big incursion with tens of thousands of troops is out of the question,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
With the Turkish government talking openly for weeks about the likelihood of an attack, the official said intelligence information shows the guerrillas have been evacuating their camps and melting away into cities and other regions.
But rebels attacked a Turkish military outpost in southeastern Tunceli province, far from the border area, and killed a sergeant Tuesday evening, the governor’s office said.
The U.S. and Iraq have been pressing Turkey to avoid a major cross-border attack on Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, rebel bases in northern Iraq out of fear such an incursion would bring instability to what has been one of the calmest areas in Iraq.
PKK rebels have killed more than 40 Turks in hit-and-run attacks over the past month, mainly soldiers, raising the public pressure on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to retaliate.
Gul said Tuesday that Turkey had made its decision on what to do about the PKK rebels.
“Turkey will carry out what it believes to be right with determination,” state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Gul as saying.
While he did not specify what the decision was, he made clear that Turkey feels the PKK is leading to instability in the region.