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Quicker is Better for Turkish Military Operations in Iraq, Gates Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

ANKARA, Turkey, Feb. 27, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates landed in Turkey today with the message for the country’s leaders that sooner is better for wrapping up Turkish military operations in northern Iraq.

Gates said he would like to see them finished within days or weeks.

“It’s very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave. They have to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty,” Gates earlier told reporters at a roundtable in New Delhi, where he wrapped up two days of talks with Indian leaders.

“I measure ‘quick’ in terms of days, a week or two … not months,” Gates said when asked to clarify how quickly he would like to see the operations finished.

Turkish military forces crossed into northern Iraq on Feb. 21 to prevent Kurdish PKK fighters from launching attacks into Turkey. The PKK is a militant Kurdish nationalist group that operates in northern Iraq and Turkey. U.S. officials classify the group as a terrorist organization.

Gates emphasized that close communication between the Turkish government, the United States and Iraq is key to the Turks carrying out their attacks against the PKK.

He meets tomorrow with the Turkish prime minister, defense minister and the commander of the Turkish armed forces. Gates said he will repeat the need to finish Turkish operations quickly, but he also will emphasize that military action alone will not solve Turkey’s problem with the PKK.

“There certainly is a place for security operations, but these also need to be accompanied by economic and political initiatives that begin to deal with some of the issues that provide a favorable local environment where the PKK can operate,” Gates said. “They need to address some of the issues and complaints that some of the Kurds have and move this in a nonmilitary direction in order to get a long-term solution.”

Gates also said the United States would be willing to consider providing nonmilitary assistance to the Turkish government. The U.S. military now provides intelligence to the Turkish military for its operations.

“If we can play a constructive role in some of these other areas, and the Turks would like our help, we certainly should give that consideration,” Gates said.

Gates’ trip to Turkey was planned before the Turkish military operations began. It is the last stop in a nine-day around-the-world trip that was aimed at reinforcing relationships with key countries in Asia.

The defense secretary’s remarks come on the same day the Pentagon’s top intelligence official told a Senate committee the ongoing Turkish incursion into northern Iraq risks destabilizing the region if operations are sustained.

“Turkey has launched a limited ground incursion with supporting artillery and air strikes against the Kurdish People’s Congress, or the KGK, in northern Iraq,” Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples told the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning in Washington.

“Sustained operations could jeopardize stability in northern Iraq,” said Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Today’s comments echo remarks by U.S. officials who last week urged Turkey to bring to a “swift conclusion” any ongoing military operations in Iraq.

“We have strongly urged the Turkish government to bring any ongoing operations to a swift conclusion,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters Feb. 22, noting that the U.S. requested Turkey “to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK.”

Whitman said the U.S. respects Turkey’s need to protect its population and urges that Turkish officials work directly with Iraqis in dealing with the PKK. Further, he said, the U.S. encourages “a long-term agreement that will enhance the stability and security of that border region.

“We believe the long-term solution is one of diplomacy,” he said, “and not a military solution.”

(John J. Kruzel contributed to this report from the Pentagon.)

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates
Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples

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