By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 24, 2007 - Throughout the senior reaches of the U.S. government, there is increasing sympathy for the Turkish position that something has to be done about the PKK – a Kurdish terrorist group that is using camps in northern Iraq as safe havens, a senior defense official said here today. The senior official, speaking on background, said the mood of the Turkish population is such that it may force the government to do something about the Kurdistan Workers Party that it does not want to do.
The PKK has launched a number of cross-border attacks inside Turkey in recent weeks. The most recent killed 17 Turkish soldiers and resulted in the alleged capture of eight others last week.
The official said Americans should not underestimate the volatility of the public mood inside Turkey. Depending on which figures you use, somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 people were killed in fighting between the Turkish military and the PKK from 1985 to 1999.
U.S. officials from President Bush on down have urged Turkey to refrain from going after the PKK camps inside Iraq. He said the PKK's strategy appears to be to draw Turkey in to a cross-border incursion. The Turks are trying very hard not to become the PKK's pawn. "The Turks would like to avoid a cross-border operation if they can," the official said. "But the patience of the Turkish people is exhausted."
The Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq understand the seriousness of the situation, the official said. Iraqi and Turkish officials are meeting at a number of places in the region to solve the PKK problem diplomatically. He called the meetings "the most serious effort at engagement yet" to end PKK activity across the border with Turkey.
American officials are running out of patience, too. U.S. officials in Washington and in Iraq expect "tangible, concrete" results from the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government.
The problem with the PKK grew because the United States has not had a lot of forces in the northern part of Iraq, the official said. Coalition forces have had their hands full dealing with other issues in Iraq, such as al Qaeda in Iraq, the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia, improvised explosive devices and car bombs. "We've been busy," the official said.
Over time, the PKK has taken advantage of this, and PKK attacks into Turkey have increased.
The official said he is pleased with the decision to close the offices of the PKK in northern cities and with the government's effort to starve the organization of funds. Whether this is enough to satisfy the Turkish people remains to be seen, he said.