By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 24, 2008 - The recent push of Turkish tanks and troops across the border into northern Iraqi Kurdistan does not pose a threat to security gains in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today at a roundtable with members of U.S and Australian media. Turkish military forces crossed into northern Iraq 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 said the Turkish operations need to be as short and precise as possible.
"I would hope that it would be short, that it would be precise and avoid the loss of innocent life, and that they leave as quickly as they can accomplish their mission," Gates said.
An open dialogue is necessary between the countries involved during the operations, Gates emphasized.
"The first thing that's important is regular dialogue and openness between the Turkish government and the Iraqi government and, I would say, also the government of Kurdistan, in terms of their intentions, their concerns, their plans and their activities and to work with the Iraqi government in trying to deal with this problem," Gates said.
Gates also pointed out that military operations alone will not resolve Turkey's problem with terrorist attacks by the PKK, which has killed both Turkish soldiers and civilians in its cross-border attacks.
"I think that all of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows us that, while dealing with a terrorist problem does require security operations, it also requires economic and political initiatives," Gates said. "One of the messages that has been a consistent one from the American government at all levels to the Turkish government is that the kinds of military activities that they have been engaged in should be complemented with initiatives to try and address some of the concerns of those who are reconcilable among the Kurds, to win their loyalty to Turkey if they are living in Turkey and to try and eliminate whatever popular base that exists that supports the terrorist activities of the PKK."
Gates said that economic and political measures are important because, after a certain point, terrorists become inured to military attacks and, at a certain point, military efforts become less and less effective.
The secretary gave the Kurdish government credit for recent initiatives and "considerable progress" in trying to curb PKK activities, but said it is a difficult area and the problem is not resolved.
"This is a difficult, long-term problem, and ... it needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way. Just using the military techniques are not going to be sufficient to solve the problem for the Turks," Gates said. "I think Turkish concern will only be allayed when there is a significant diminution in PKK activity in Turkey."
Gates said there is considerable pressure on the Turkish government to deal with the PKK because of deaths the groups' attacks have caused. He added that this is not a problem the Turkish government will be able to resolve by itself.
"Everybody has to participate in this together -- it's the Turks; it's us; it's the Turkish regional government; it's the Iraqi government," he said. "The key thing is close communication and coordination in working these things and a respect for Iraqis' sovereignty, which includes keeping the Iraqis informed and in a dialogue.
Turkey remains a key country in the NATO alliance, and strengthening the United States' ties there would be helpful in the Middle East and Central Asia, Gates said. "I think there are a lot of opportunities for further cooperation with Turkey," he said.
Gates will travel to Turkey this week as part of his nine-day overseas trip, which includes Indonesia and India. The stop was planned prior to any indication of military operations there, he said.