Turkey's Military Options for Dealing with the PKK
October 31, 2007
The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a group the United States, the European Union, and Turkey consider a terrorist organization, has been staging attacks in Turkey from camps in the mountainous border regions in northern Iraq for three decades. The Turkish public has become outraged by escalating PKK attacks in recent weeks, and on October 17, the Turkish parliament by a nearly unanimous vote authorized cross-border military strikes into Iraq against the PKK. This has raised fears of wider regional instability and further tension in Ankara’s relations with Washington.
In the current crisis, Turkey’s military options are likely to have limited effect on the PKK and are fraught with international and domestic political risks. For this reason, Ankara is pursuing diplomacy. The Turks must know, though, that it is nearly impossible for the central Iraqi government in Baghdad to take real action against the PKK, and it is highly unlikely that the Kurdish regional government will take action under current circumstances. The United States is rightly worried about maintaining relative stability in northern Iraq and is unlikely to commit forces to hunt for the PKK because of the existing demands of operations elsewhere in the country. Covert cooperation with Turkey is a possibility, but such action would have significant operational challenges due to the harsh geography and would not repair relations with a restive Turkish public that has lost confidence in their U.S. ally. Also, U.S. special operations forces are already under tremendous demand elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan. U.S. involvement may also risk opening a new front against U.S. troops in Iraq at a time when commanders and Pentagon officials are looking to draw down forces. The situation for all parties is dangerous and challenging. Any solution to this crisis would need to come in the larger framework of the future of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as a neighbor to Turkey.