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Turkey launches incursion into Iraq

ANKARA - The Associated Press | 10/19/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Turkish soldiers, air force bombers and helicopter gunships launched an incursion into Iraq on today, hours after PKK militants killed 24 soldiers and wounded 18 others in multiple attacks along the border.

Turkish soldiers, air force bombers and helicopter gunships launched an incursion into Iraq on today, hours after alleged members of the outlawed Kurdistan Wokers' Party (PKK) killed 24 soldiers and wounded 18 others in multiple attacks along the border.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey had launched large-scale operations, including "a hot pursuit within the limits of international law." He did not elaborate, but added, "We will never bow to any attack from inside or outside Turkey." Erdogan canceled a visit to Kazakhstan after the attacks as the chief of the military as well as interior and defense ministers rushed to the border area to oversee the anti-militant offensives.

NTV television, without citing sources, said Turkish troops had gone some 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) into Iraq and helicopters were ferrying commandos across the border.

The incursion for now appears to be limited in scope. Turkey last staged a major ground offensive against Iraq in early 2008.

The new incursion began hours after the militants staged simultaneous attacks on military outposts and police stations near the border towns of Çukurca and Yüksekova early this morning.

The Interior Ministry earlier had said 26 soldiers were killed and 22 others were wounded but the prime minister corrected the casualty figures to 24 dead and 18 wounded without providing an explanation for the discrepancy. It was the deadliest PKK attack since 1992, according to a tally by NTV television.

Turkey asked Iraq last week to move against militant bases in northern Iraq, saying "its "patience is running out" in the face of militant attacks directed at Turkey from Iraqi soil.

"No one should forget that those who make us suffer this pain will be made to suffer even stronger," President Abdullah Gül told reporters Wednesday. "They will see that the vengeance for these attacks will be immense and many times stronger." A pro-Kurdish party, who is accused by authorities of links to the Kurdish militant group, called on both the government and the militants to end the fighting.

"Turkey's most urgent need is peace," the Peace and Democracy Party said. "We call on both the government and the PKK to immediately halt the war, without losing a second." Dogan news agency said around 200 Kurdish militants were believed to have participated in the attacks Wednesday.

Turkish warplanes and artillery units, positioned just inside Turkey, struck at the Kurdish militant bases across the border in response, NTV said.

The militants have lately intensified their attacks in the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast, killing dozens of members of the country's security force and at least 18 civilians since mid-July.

On Tuesday, a roadside bomb blast killed five policemen and three civilians, including a 4-year-old girl. Wednesday's attack sparked public outrage. A group of angry Turkish veterans of the 27-year-old Kurdish conflict attempted to storm the office of the prime minister, shouting "martyrs never die!".

The attacks were condemned by several political figures.

"As a friend and ally, the United States will continue to stand with the people and government of Turkey in their fight against the PKK, which the United States has officially designated as a terrorist organization," said Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey in a statement on Wednesday. "No political cause, and no religion, can justify terrorism."

The U.S. currently shares drone surveillance data with Turkey to aid its fight against Kurdish militants and it is engaged in talks with Turkey for possible deployment of Predator drones on Turkish soil after the U.S. leaves Iraq, according to the Turkish government.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also condemned the latest Kurdish militants violence.

"On behalf of NATO, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent attacks in southeastern Turkey, which killed and injured several Turkish soldiers, policemen and civilians, including a child," Rasmussen said in a statement.

Erdoğan said Turkey was expecting "active cooperation" from the international community in its fight against the militants.

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