ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is considering a ground operation against Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq, private broadcaster CNN Turk quoted Foreign Minister Ali Babacan as saying on Tuesday.
â€œThe option of a ground operation is on the table. The timing (of such an operation) and weather conditions are important,â€ Babacan was quoted as saying.
Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along its mountainous frontier with Iraq. It has already carried out several small-scale cross-border commando operations as well as aerial bombing raids against rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Earlier this month, Turkish warplanes bombed 70 PKK targets inside Iraq in one of the biggest raids to date and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowed to continue the cross-border campaign â€œuntil we win.â€
Traditionally, the Turkish armed forces step up operations against PKK rebels inside Turkey in the springtime as the mountain snows melt.
On Monday, the English language daily Todayâ€™s Zaman, which is close to Erdoganâ€™s government, said the armed forces were planning to mount a land operation into northern Iraq in mid-March that would deal â€œa final strikeâ€ against the rebels.
Turkeyâ€™s current military campaign in northern Iraq took off after President George W. Bush agreed last November to start sharing detailed intelligence with Ankara on PKK movements inside Iraq.
Iraq has regularly said it was doing all it could to meet Turkeyâ€™s demands to rein in PKK rebels on its soil, but urged Ankara to use diplomacy to resolve the issue.
Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group launched its armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
Like Turkey, the United States and European Union also classify the PKK as a terrorist organisation, though Ankara has often accused its allies, especially in Europe, of failing to cooperate in fighting the organisation.
â€œWe are cooperating with the United States in the fight against terrorism,â€ Babacan was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
(Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Mary Gabriel)