ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Several thousand Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq early Wednesday to chase Kurdish guerrillas who operate from bases there, Turkish security officials said.
Two senior security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the raid was limited in scope and that it did not constitute the kind of large incursion that Turkish leaders have been discussing in recent weeks.
“It is not a major offensive and the number of troops is not in the tens of thousands,” one of the officials told The Associated Press by telephone. The official is based in southeast Turkey, where the military has been battling separatist Kurdish rebels since they took up arms in 1984.
The officials did not say where the Turkish force was operating in northern Iraq, nor did he say how long they would be there.
The officials said any confrontation with Iraqi Kurdish groups, who have warned against a Turkish incursion, could trigger a larger cross-border operation. The Turkish military has asked the government in Ankara to approve such an incursion, but the government has not given formal approval.
An official at military headquarters in Ankara declined to confirm or deny the report that Turkish troops had entered Iraq.
Turkish troops have occasionally launched brief raids in pursuit of guerrillas in northern Iraq, and have sometimes shelled suspected rebel positions across the border. Turkish authorities rarely acknowledge such military operations, which were more frequent before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Update: We have more details on what happened. It was a “hot pursuit” and not an incursion.
One official said several thousand troops went less than two miles inside Iraq and were still there in late afternoon. “It is a hot pursuit, not an incursion,” one official said.
Another official said by telephone it was “not a major offensive and the number of troops is not in the tens of thousands.” He also said the Turkish troops went into a remote, mountainous area.
A third official, based in the border region, said 600 commandos entered Iraq, and were backed up by several thousand troops along the border. He said the commandos raided Iraqi territory across from the Turkish border town of Cukurca before dawn after rebels opened fire from Iraqi soil on Turkish patrols.
The official said the commandos returned to their bases in Turkey later in the day. There was no immediate explanation for the conflicting accounts of the officials.
All three officials are based in southeast Turkey, where the military has been battling separatist Kurdish rebels since they took up arms in 1984.
The officials stood by their statements despite denials from Turkish and Iraqi officials.