Turkey's incursion against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq should be short and focused, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday, and he urged Ankara to explain the goals of its cross-border operation.
"The United States believes the current offensive should be as short and precisely targeted as possible," Gates said after a meeting with Turkish counterpart Vecdi Gonul.
The US-backed Iraqi government has demanded an immediate end to the operation that began on Feb. 21. Gates has said the cross-border assault must not last longer than a week or two.
"Turkey's government should make clear to the Iraqi government and everyone concerned exactly what their intentions are and the limited goals and scope of their operations," Gates said. "I believe there is a growing appreciation of the complexity of the situation of balancing the right of Turkey to defend itself with the need to maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Gonul said Turkey would end its operation after reaching its goals.
"It depends on winter conditions. If the mission is accomplished, we have no intention of staying there," Gonul said.
Gates called on Turkey to address the economic and social concerns of its Kurds, who complain of cultural and other restrictions as well as deep poverty in many areas. Kurdish rebels seek autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, and took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
"Military action alone will not end this terrorist threat. Simultaneous efforts should be made with nonmilitary initiatives," Gates said. "Economic programs and political outreach. That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide a long term solution to the problem," he said.
He urged Turkey to engage in dialogue with Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish leaders. Turkey has long suspected the Iraqi Kurd administration in the north of allowing the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to operate and ignoring calls for a crackdown on the group.
"The key for all parties is transparency, cooperation and communication," Gates said.
Gates said "a specific timetable did not come up" for withdrawal during his meeting with Gonul, but he added that he would have more meetings with Turkish leaders.
Gates ruled out any threat to halt the sharing of intelligence about rebel positions if Turkey did not withdraw.
"We have shared interests here," he said. "I think that those interests are probably not advanced by making threats or threatening to cut off intelligence."
Turkish artillery units fired shells across the Iraqi border and helicopters streamed toward Iraq from the border town of Cukurca, said a photographer at the scene.
Gonul said there were no civilians in the areas where Turkish soldiers were conducting operations.
"We have no intention of disturbing any civilian area. We have no intention of interfering in domestic politics and we have no intention of occupying any area," he said.
Turkey's military has said it has killed 230 rebels in the operation while Turkish losses stood at 27. The remote battle sites are inaccessible to the media and casualty reports cannot be independently confirmed.
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