By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 21, 2007 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates assured his Turkish counterpart that the United States will work closer with Turkey to confront Kurdish terrorists who launched an attack that killed more than a dozen Turkish soldiers today. The pre-scheduled meeting between Turkish Defense Minister Mehmet Vecdi Gonul and Gates occurred hours after the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, blew up a bridge in Turkey near the border with Iraq as a 12-vehicle military convoy was crossing it, Turkish officials confirmed.
Gonul said the attack killed 17 Turkish soldiers, but sources in Ankara are reporting slightly lower casualty figures. Sixteen people were reported wounded, and 10 are missing following the attack, Gonul said.
Turkish forces launched a counteroffensive, although the precise number of PKK members killed is unclear.
Gonul said plans for additional action are under way, but that an "urgent" response isn't likely. Turkey's cabinet convened an emergency session today to discuss the situation.
Gonul did not rule out retaliation before the upcoming Nov. 5 meeting between President Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The PKK attack occurred just days after the Turkish parliament voted to authorize its troops to cross the border into Iraq to confront terrorists launching attacks into Turkey. The one-year authorization gives the green light for Turkey's military to move into the Kurdish region of Iraq to go after the PKK.
Lack of a central government in northern Iraq since 1991 gave terrorists the opportunity to establish a safe haven there that's now being used against Turkey, Gonul said. He said he told Gates public opinion in Turkey forced the Turkish parliament to authorize cross-border operations to bring the killing to a stop.
These terrorists "harm our people, our children, our women and of course our soldiers," Gonul told reporters. "Our boys are dying."
Gates said he assured Gonul the United States wants to do more to help, but urged restraint in responding too quickly without enough concrete intelligence to act on. "I think that the first and foremost challenge that we face, as is so often the case with terrorism, is actionable intelligence," Gates said. "The key is developing intelligence that will enable us to find these people. That has to precede any action by anybody.
Gates said he told Gonul, "lacking actionable intelligence, for them to send a large force across the border without any specific targets was likely to lead to a lot of collateral damage that nobody needs."
The secretary told reporters he is "heartened that (Gonul) seems to be implying reluctance on their part to act unilaterally."
"I didn't have the impression that anything is imminent," Gates said.
"Restraint should not be confused with weakness," Gates said he told Gonul. The secretary emphasized in today's talks that "a major cross-border operation would be contrary to Turkey's interest as well as to our own and to that of Iraq."
Gates told reporters during an Oct. 18 Pentagon news conference he feared that a Turkish attack "would create an international crisis and further undermine stability in Iraq."
The secretary assured Gonul today the United States is "very mindful of the reality of the PKK terrorist threat and ... very sympathetic toward the families of both soldiers and civilians in Turkey who have been killed by PKK actions."
"There is no difference of view in terms of the threat they pose or that they are terrorists," Gates said. "And we have explored some areas in which we can work more closely with the Turks. We have taken action along some of those lines, including intelligence, and we are continuing to work with issue."
Gonul agreed with the need for more intelligence cooperation, but told reporters here he'd like to see "tangible actions" from the United States in other ways, too. "We like to do these things with the Americans," he said.
Gates had been slated to meet with Gonul as news of the incident broke today. The bilateral session was arranged to correspond with the defense leaders' attendance at the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial, being sponsored by Ukraine.
The two defense leaders also discussed a pending U.S. resolution that declares Ottoman Turks' 1915-1917 killings of Armenians a genocide. Gates told reporters at an Oct. 18 news conference that the measure "has the potential to do real harm to our troops in Iraq."
Gates said he updated Gonul today about efforts in the administration and in Congress to ensure that lawmakers understand the consequence of such a resolution's passage. The secretary said he also urged Turkey to consider efforts it might make to improve tensions between it and Armenia.
"I also suggested that it could be helpful if Turkey could consider some measures in terms of reaching out to Armenia in pursuing further reconciliation," he said.