A Turkish soldier patrols an area near Sirnak. "The target, purpose, size and parameters of this operation are limited," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
A Turkish soldier patrols an area near Sirnak. "The target, purpose, size and parameters of this operation are limited," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. STR/AFP/Getty Images
Thousands of Turkish troops have crossed the border into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels, the military said Friday, in an operation officials said would last 15 days.
Turkish television placed the size of the force at 10,000 and said it had penetrated six miles into Iraqi territory. The Turkish military said its ground assault would be supported by warplanes.
Later, private broadcaster CNN Turk quoted security sources as saying the military ground offensive against the PKK rebels was planned to last 15 days.
The incursion, which Turkey has said is aimed only at the separatists, is the first such operation since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003. Despite Turkey's assurances, it raises concerns about triggering a wider conflict in the region.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the United States "wants the Turkish government to bring any ongoing operations to a swift conclusion." Meanwhile, the White House said it a statement it wanted to see "precise" targeting of the PKK, so as to avoid civilian casualties.
Turkey has conducted air raids against PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq since December, with the help of U.S. intelligence. It has periodically carried out so-called "hot pursuits," in which Turkish forces are given the green light to cross the border in small units for a limited amount of time.
The Kurdish militants are fighting for autonomy in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, and have carried out attacks on Turkish targets from bases in northern Iraq. The United States and the European Union consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.