The morass in Iraq and deepening difficulties in
Afghanistan have not deterred the Bush
administration from taking on a dangerous and
questionable new secret operation. High-level U.S.
officials are working with their Turkish
counterparts on a joint military operation to
suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their
leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to
forestall Turkey from invading Iraq.
While detailed operational plans are necessarily
concealed, the broad outlines have been presented to
select members of Congress as required by law. U.S.
Special Forces are to work with the Turkish army to
suppress the Kurds' guerrilla campaign. The Bush
administration is trying to prevent another front
from opening in Iraq, which would have disastrous
consequences. But this gamble risks major exposure
The Turkish initiative reflects the temperament and
personality of George W. Bush. Even faithful
congressional supporters of his Iraq policy have
been stunned by the president's upbeat mood, which
makes him appear oblivious to the loss of his
political base. Despite the failing effort to impose
a military solution in Iraq, he is willing to try
imposing arms -- though clandestinely -- on Turkey's
ancient problems with its Kurdish minority, who
comprise one-fifth of the country's population.
The development of an autonomous Kurdish entity
inside Iraq, resulting from the decline and fall of
Saddam Hussein, has alarmed the Turkish government.
That led to Ankara's refusal to allow U.S. combat
troops to enter Iraq through Turkey, an
eleventh-hour complication for the 2003 invasion. As
the Kurds' political power grew inside Iraq, the
Turkish government became steadily more uneasy about
the centuries-old project of a Kurdistan spreading
across international boundaries -- and chewing up
big pieces of Turkey.
The dormant Turkish Kurd guerrilla fighters of the
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) came to life. By June,
the Turkish government was demonstrating its concern
by lobbing artillery shells across the border.
Ankara began protesting, to both Washington and
Baghdad, that the PKK was using northern Iraq as a
base for guerrilla operations. On July 11, in
Washington, Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy became
the first Turkish official to assert publicly that
Iraqi Kurds have claims on Turkish territory. On
July 20, just two days before his successful
reelection, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan threatened a military incursion into Iraq
against the Kurds. Last Wednesday, Murat Karayilan,
head of the PKK political council, predicted that "the
Turkish Army will attack southern Kurdistan."
* Southern Kurdistan is (Iraqi Kurdistan)
Turkey has a well-trained, well-equipped army of
250,000 near the border,
facing some 4,000 PKK fighters hiding in the
mountains of northern Iraq. But significant
cross-border operations surely would bring to the
PKK's side the military forces of the Kurdistan
Regional Government, the best U.S. ally in Iraq.
What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two
friends battling each other on an unwanted new front
The surprising answer was given in secret briefings
on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a
former aide to Vice President Cheney who is now
undersecretary of defense for policy. Edelman, a
Foreign Service officer who once was U.S. ambassador
to Turkey, revealed to lawmakers plans for a covert
operation of U.S. Special Forces to help the Turks
neutralize the PKK. They would behead the guerrilla
organization by helping Turkey get rid of PKK
leaders that they have targeted for years.
Edelman's listeners were stunned. Wasn't this risky?
He responded that he was sure of success, adding
that the U.S. role could be concealed and always
would be denied. Even if all this is true, some of
the briefed lawmakers left wondering whether this
was a wise policy for handling the beleaguered
Kurds, who had been betrayed so often by the U.S.
government in years past.
The plan shows that hard experience has not
dissuaded President Bush from attempting difficult
ventures employing the use of force. On the
contrary, two of the most intrepid supporters of the
Iraq intervention -- John McCain and Lindsey
Graham-- were surprised by Bush during a recent
meeting with him. When they shared their impressions
with colleagues, they commented on how unconcerned
the president seemed. That may explain his
willingness to embark on such a questionable venture
against the Kurds.
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