DEBKAfile Exclusive: Fierce battles rage Thursday between the Turkish army and Kurdish PKK rebels on both sides of Turkish-Iraqi border. A Turkish Black Hawk shot down over Iraq
Heavy casualties are reported on both sides. Turkish tanks have also been hit. The PKK Kurdish Workers Party turns out to have been ready for the major Turkish operation, well-armed with anti-tank and shoulder-borne missiles for shooting down Turkish warplanes and helicopters. Despite Ankara’s blackout on the scale of operation against the Kurdish rebels on both sides of the border and the scope of the Turkish incursion of Iraq, DEBKAfile’s military sources report the situation as of Thursday, June 7:
PKK bands, who stole earlier into southeastern Turkey from Iraq and locally, are hitting Turkish concentrations behind the lines and impeding their thrust into Iraqi Kurdistan to destroy rebel hideouts. The Turkish army is therefore fighting on two fronts: in the southeastern Turkish Gabar, Cudi and Bakok mountains and River Cehennem, as well as in northern Iraq.
DEBKAfile’s military sources reported Wednesday that the several thousand troops which entered N. Iraq were only the first wave of the Turkish invasion, with more to come. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US ambassador to Ankara had met with the Turkish General Staff, which confirmed that the initial reports of the invasion were not accurate. Later reports spoke of a “cross-border” raid.
Our military sources estimate that some 15,000 rebel Kurdish Workers Party, PKK, are holed up in Iraqi Kurdistan. To destroy their bases would require many more than the few thousand Turkish troops and longer than a cross-border raid admitted by Ankara – especially if the incursion sparked Iraqi Kurdish resistance as has been threatened.
An expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, Soner Cagaptay, is quoted by the New York Sun as estimating there are now 250,000 soldiers massed at the Qandil mountain range on the border with northern Iraq, including heavy artillery and tanks. An Iraqi official cited 100,000. DEBKAfile’s military experts estimate 80-90,000.
The Turkish news agency Cehan reported Wednesday that three F-16 Falcon fighter bombers had carried out bombing raids on positions of the PKK in northern Iraq. Artillery deployed at the border with Iraq had fired at “pinpointed targets.”
On June 2, DEBKAfile reported US troops had withdrawn from northern Iraq and passed responsibility for the region’s security to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga. This followed an urgent message Iraqi Kurdistan’s president, Massoud Barzani, sent to Ankara by a personal emissary, Safin Dizai, warning that Turkish tanks would not be allowed to cross into northern Iraq. The Kurdish peshmerga would repel them. “The people of Kurdistan,“ said the messenger, “would not stand by as spectators if Turkish tanks and panzers entered Kirkuk.”
Monday, Kurdish PKK rebels killed at least 8 soldiers, wounding 6, in a suicide attack on an E. Turkish checkpoint at Tunceli.
After the attack, Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gulf defended his country’s right to drive into neighboring Iraq to destroy rebel bases.