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Turk minister plays down Iraq incursion

Published: 6:13AM Monday October 22, 2007 Source: Reuters

Turkey's defence minister played down suggestions of an imminent cross-border incursion into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there after the guerrillas killed more than a dozen Turkish soldiers.

Asked if there would be a military response to recent attacks, Vecdi Gonul said: "Not urgently. They (Turkish troops) are planning a cross-border (incursion)."

"We'd like to do these things with the Americans," added Gonul, who was speaking to reporters in Kiev, Ukraine, after talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Gates said Turkey needed to gather intelligence that could pinpoint Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters in Iraq before any large-scale military action in response to Sunday's attacks.

Echoing Gonul's remarks, Gates said he did not believe a major cross-border operation by Ankara was imminent, and said Gonul had implied there was reluctance to act unilaterally against the PKK.

"I think that first and foremost the challenge that we face as is so often the case with terrorists is actionable intelligence," Gates told reporters. "I told him that lacking actionable intelligence, for them to send a large force across the border without any specific targets was likely to lead to a lot of collateral damage."

Asked if he was able to get firm assurance that Turkey did not plan to send large forces across the border into Iraq, Gates said no.

"But I think I didn't have the impression that anything was imminent," he said.