ARBIL, Iraq (AFP–Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq on Tuesday in the latest in a series of cross-border air strikes, Turkey’s military and northern Iraqi security forces said.
"Intensive" strikes targeted Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in the regions of Zap-Sivi, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk, the Turkish army general staff announced in a statement on its website.
"The aircraft returned safely to base after successfully completing their mission," it said, adding that "maximum care" was taken to avoid civilian casualties. It gave no toll.
General Jabbar Yawar, spokesman for the Kurdish peshmerga security forces of northern Iraq, said the air strikes had been preceded by an artillery barrage.
"The Turkish artillery bombarded the areas of Khakurg and Nirikan near Amadiyah," some 280 miles north of Baghdad, Yawar told AFP in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil.
"Turkish military planes then took up the offensive and bombarded the same areas," added Jawar, who said the attack had lasted nearly two hours.
Casualty figures were not immediately available from the areas hit in the strikes, which Yawar said were uninhabited.
A Kurdish Democratic Party official in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the bombardmen’s had struck across a 9.7-mile strip along the border and 8.2 miles inside Iraq.
It was the fourth air strike against PKK targets in northern Iraq the Turkish military has confirmed since December 16, in addition to a cross-border ground operation to stop a group of militants seeking to infiltrate Turkey.
Iraqi Kurds, who run northern Iraq, reported two other air operations in December that Ankara did not confirm.
Turkey has massed up to 100,000 soldiers near the Iraqi border, and in October, the Turkish parliament gave a one-year authorization for cross-border military action against the PKK.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday he could not predict when the offensive against Kurds in Iraq would end.
"We hope that this fight against terrorism will end soon but we don’t know how much longer it will last," Erdogan told journalists in Madrid, where he met with Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
The air raids are conducted with intelligence made available by the United States.
At least 150 PKK members have been killed and more than 200 positions destroyed so far, including command and training bases, ammunition dumps and anti-aircraft posts, according to the army.
Ankara says an estimated 4,000 PKK members take refuge in northern Iraq, where they are tolerated by the local Kurdish administration as they use camps there as a springboard for attacks inside Turkey.
The United States, at first reluctant to back Turkish military action in Iraq, has agreed to supply its NATO ally with intelligence on PKK movemen’s for limited cross-border strikes.
The Pentagon said last month that a coordination centre was set up in Ankara where Turkish and US military officials share intelligence.
Washington is eager to fend off a large cross-border operation by the Turkish military that might destabilize the relatively peaceful northern part of Iraq.