On Jan. 8, hours before he heads out on his Middle East tour, President George W. Bush will ceremoniously receive Turkish president Abdullah Gul on the White House lawn. This will be the first visit by a Turkish head of state since Suleyman Demirel was received at the White House in 1996.
The warming of US-Turkish ties in recent weeks owes much to the deepening intelligence relations between the two countries in the form of the routine handover of US intelligence to Turkey on the movements of the Kurdish Workers Party-PKK in northern Iraq.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that this is Washington’s reward to Ankara for keeping its promise to refrain from a large-scale invasion of northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
This arrangement is both restrictive and fragile.
The PKK is left in its northern Iraqi havens and able to operate inside Turkey, in Central Asia and in Europe. A single devastating PKK terrorist attack emanating from any of these places would force the Turks to hit northern Iraqi targets really hard – and so put paid to US-Turkish intelligence cooperation.
For now, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports, the US data flowing to Ankara is extensive and diverse. It is not limited to static PKK sites, such as bases and training facilities, but is specific enough for the Turkish Air Force to pinpoint moving Kurdish targets, especially of infiltrators approaching the border for terrorist operations or smuggling suicide teams across.
This flow keeps Turkish fighter-bombers and helicopters in the air over Iraqi Kurdistan almost around the clock ready to hit a target instantly upon receipt of a US surveillance tip-off.
One Turkish intelligence source said that armed PKK bands stand no chance of eluding American oversight wherever they move in northern Iraq, unless they are disguised as unarmed civilians. Hundreds of US sensors are scattered around the regions of the Kurdish hideouts in northern and eastern Iraqi Kurdistan. They beam up a stream of data to US drones, which transfer them straight to the Turkish airborne hunters.
PKK eyes move to South Caucasian Nagorniy Karabakh
This joint effort has reduced by more than 60 percent the level of PKK terrorist attacks inside southern Turkey.
Ankara has not been slow to express satisfaction: A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said Wednesday, Jan. 2: “Obviously President Gul’s visit to the White House will reconfirm the importance attached to our bilateral ties. We are satisfied with the new intelligence-sharing system and looking forward to deepening our cooperation.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that Gul will be followed by Turkey’s Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Ergin Saygun later this month. In addition to discussing the state of intelligence cooperation between the two countries, he will co-chair the 21st annual bilateral High-level Defense Group (HLDG) meeting, which takes place this year in the US capital.
Despite the cordial words, our sources report that the Americans have quietly advised Iraqi Kurdish leaders to abstain from aiding the Turkish campaign against the PKK sanctuaries. Leave them be, say US advisers, keep them as a card up your sleeve in case you need one against the Turks.
The Kurdish separatists have meanwhile laid plans to escape outside the range of US intelligence-backed Turkish air strikes.
Our sources have picked up rumors going round northern Iraq that PKK leaders are acting on a decision they reached in November to move their bases from the Qandil mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan to the predominantly ethnic Armenian South Caucasian region of Nagorno-Karabakh, over which Armenia and Azerbaijan are formally at war.
These rumors were supported by PKK defectors who turned themselves in to Turkish forces. The PKK is reported to be eying Shusha, Fizuli and Lachin for its new bases.
Reports of a possible creation of a Kurdish autonomous district in the Armenian-inhabited Lachin and Kelbajar regions have been dismissed as a pipe dream by some experts. Others say it is possible.
No transfer of Kurdish rebel bases has been confirmed as yet. A group of PKK chiefs is reported to have visited a dozen Kurdish villages in the Karabakh region to sound out chances of support. One of the issues they reportedly checked out was whether they would be allowed to strike against northern Turkey via Azerbaijan.
These reports have meanwhile raised a political furor in Baku, where Azerbaijani members of parliament are demanding a clear statement from the Ministry of National Security on their government’s intentions with regard to PKK bases.
High-ranking state officials have been accused by several Azerbaijani media of supporting PKK terrorism.