Turkish attack aims to 'finish' Kurds

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Turkish forces, supported by F-16 military aircraft and Cobra helicopters, yesterday pushed deeper into northern Iraq in pursuit of Turkish Kurd guerrillas who operate from the mountains along the border with Turkey.

Turkey says it has killed 76 members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and lost five soldiers in the offensive which started last Wednesday. The attack appears to be on a smaller scale than the six-week occupation of part of Iraqi Kurdistan by 35,000 Turkish troops earlier in the year.

Senior Turkish officers say they have struck serious blows against the PKK inside Turkey recently, reducing their fighting forces to 4,000 to 5,000 men. "They say that if they can cut off the Turkish Kurds from their bases in Iraq they can finish them," a Turkish source said.

Iraqi Kurds report clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK at the villages of Shirwan Mazin and Mirgah Sur, north of the town of Rawanduz which is close to the Iranian border. The apparent target is a PKK camp at Haftanin. About 3,000 Iraqi Kurds are fleeing the advancing Turkish forces.

The last Turkish offensive, launched on 19 March, was heavily criticised in Europe, but received a much more muted response in the US, which gives priority to keeping Turkey part of the coalition against Saddam Hussein. On 21 June, General John Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote to Congress opposing any cut in aid to Turkey and expressing his conviction that the Turkish military leadership is committed to democratic reform.

The Defense Department in Washington yesterday avoided condemning the invasion but stressed "the need to limit the scope and duration of the operation and safeguard human rights". Turkish specialists say the belief by Turkish general staff that they are close to crushing the PKK is misplaced, though there are signs of divisions and disagreements within the PKK leadership. The army also believes that its earlier offensive into Iraqi Kurdistan thwarted PKK plans to raise the level of its operations in 1994/95 by increasing the number of its guerrillas to 50,000 men, operating inside Turkey with larger units numbering 1,500 to 2,000 and creating liberated zones.

These objectives may always have been too ambitious but it is also doubtful if the PKK, which has been fighting since 1984, is as weak as the Turkish army believes It has 8,000 members in Europe which can be used as reserves. It can also use its strength in the cities - there are 2 million Kurds in Istanbul - to begin attacks on the Turkish tourist trade, which brings in more than $4bn a year.

Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, has warned foreign tourists against visiting Turkey this year. Turkish sources say the PKK can always find recruits as "the military wants to treat every Kurd as a potential member of the PKK and a terrorist".

Ever since the Iraqi army retreated from its three northern provinces, where the population is overwhelmingly Kurdish, in 1991, it has been easy for Turkish forces to cross the frontier. But once there they have had great difficulty in locating the lightly armed guerrillas of the PKK which can take refuge in caves, retreat south or, as happened this March, move into camps in Iran. Turkish officers admitted that even 35,000 men were insufficient to properly search the area.

The biggest losers in the two Turkish offensives this year are the Iraqi Kurds, who have found that the Gulf war allies - notably the US, UK and France - are prepared to defend them against Iraq but not Turkey.