ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish warplanes hit eight suspected Kurdish rebel hideouts in northern Iraq on Wednesday, the third cross-border air assault in 10 days, Turkey's military said.
The warplanes struck in an "effective pinpoint operation" targeting eight caves and other hideouts being used by the separatist rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, the military said in a statement posted on its Web site.
No rebel deaths were immediately reported.
The Kurdish north is one part of Iraq that has been relatively quiet since the overthrow of Saddam, but is that quiet coming to an end?
On Tuesday, Turkey's military claimed that more than 200 Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq have been hit since Dec. 16, killing hundreds of rebels. Wednesday's strikes were the third aerial operation confirmed by the military since Dec. 16. The military also has confirmed that it sent ground troops to hunt down the rebels on Dec. 18.
The PKK has waged a war for autonomy in parts of Turkey for more than two decades. The fighting has cost tens of thousands of lives. The U.S., the European Union and Turkey consider the PKK a terrorist organization, but the U.S. in particular has been concerned that Turkish operations affecting northern Iraq could destabilize one of the war-torn country's most stable areas.
It is worth recalling that terrorist organizations need money to operate. Where does the PKK get its money?
It is common these days to point at one's enemy and yell "Terrorist!" But what is the difference between a guerrilla organization and a terrorist organization?
The military launched the latest operation after spotting a group of rebels preparing to spend the winter in hideouts, it said.
In Iraq, Jabar Yawar, the deputy minister of the Kurdistan regional government's Peshmerga forces, said Turkish planes had carried out a half-hour raid near the border, starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
"Because the areas were deserted, there were no civilians casualties," he said.
That's a good one!
Being in a relatively remote area, away from civilian population centers, certainly diminishes the prospect for collateral damage -- but how can they be so sure so fast?
Up to 175 rebels were killed on Dec. 16 alone in "unprotected buildings" in the mountainous areas in northern Iraq, the military said Tuesday, adding that the death toll did not include rebels believed killed inside hideouts and caves. The military said scores of rebels wounded in the operations were taken to hospitals in Iraq's northern cities.
Other hideouts and anti-aircraft weapons were struck in a cross-border air assault on Dec. 22, followed by artillery fire from inside Turkey.
Of Wednesday's raids, the military said: "It was observed that a large group of terrorists who were being watched by the Turkish Armed Forces for a long time were preparing to spend the winter ... in eight caves and hideouts."
"Turkish warplanes have struck the mentioned terrorist group targets with an effective pinpoint operation as of the morning of Dec. 26," the statement said, adding that the military was determined to continue its operations against the rebels.
What are they fighting over?
We know that the Kurds occupy areas in northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey, and even parts of northeastern Syria.
There has been mention for years of establishment of an independent Kurdistan, and that could be a threat to the territorial integrity of the four nations mentioned, but this seems unlikely, as the Kurds often seem to fight amongst themselves.
Still, after the precedent set by first the Clinton Administration and now the Bush Administration in Kosovo, any nation with a sizeable minority in some part of their country now has to worry about whether it will be dismembered in violation of international law and under the threat of NATO airstrikes.
The U.S. has been providing intelligence to Turkey on the Kurdish rebels since a Nov. 5 meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Bush, who said the rebel group was an enemy of the U.S., Turkey and Iraq.
Wait a minute. I thought the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq had been relatively quiet, and that the Kurds had been among the few people who were fairly consistently not "with the terrorists". Was I mistaken, or has something changed? Because now, all of a sudden, the Kurdish rebels are an enemy of the U.S.
Obviously, it is not appropriate to equate the PKK with the Kurds in general, but my point is that the PKK has been there the whole time -- why now are they an enemy of the U.S.? Are they active in destabilizing the new Iraqi government?
A coordination center has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information.
Ankara has said it would not tolerate more PKK attacks, after a string of deadly ambushes killed dozens of troops in the past months. In October, the parliament allowed the government to end troops into Iraq to hit rebel bases there.
Turkish lobbyists have accused the PKK of being involved in narcotics trafficking, and indeed, that makes sense if we classify the PKK as a terrorist organization -- terrorism requires money, and in the last decade and a half, terrorists groups have turned increasingly to narcotics trafficking and organized crime to generate revenue.
But, we recall from the Sibel Edmonds case, and from other sources, that the Turkish government is thoroughly infested with narcotics traffickers. Turkish government and especially military equipment move narcotics not just within Turkey, but throughout Europe, where Turkish government officials with diplomatic immunity run a big distribution network.
Earlier, the opium was grown in Afghanistan and elsewhere and refined in Turkey before transshipment to Europe. Now, however, under the watchful eyes of U.S. and NATO forces, narcotics production in Afghanistan has become so comfortable that they refine the heroin in Afghanistan.
Undoubtedly, many of the Turkish military are patriotic warriors, defending their nation against terrorist attacks. I am sure many of the Kurdish forces are similarly merely doing what they think best for their people.
But, in the right circles, might they have another reason for fighting? Might the fight be driven by a struggle for control of the heroin trade routes?
And, what ever happened to those 363 tons of cash flown into Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion?