Turkish jet fighters bombed Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq early Sunday, Turkey's military said, marking an escalation of force against the outlawed separatist group. An Iraqi official said the planes attacked several villages, killing one woman.
The nighttime offensive was the first confirmed operation since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that Turkish war planes have been used in Iraqi territory. Turkey has previously attacked the area with ground-based artillery and helicopters.
The fighter jets hit rebel positions close to the border with Turkey and the Qandil mountain, which straddles the Iraq-Iran border and is 60 miles from the frontier between Iraq and Turkey, the military said in a statement posted on its Web site. It said the operation was directed against the rebels and not against the local population.
The leadership council of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, is based on Qandil and the group has a network of camps around the mountain. The group seeks autonomy for the Kurdish minority in southeastern Turkey and has hideouts in northern Iraq
Abdullah Ibrahim, a top local official in the Iraqi administrative center of Sangasar, said Turkish warplanes bombarded 10 Kurdish villages, killing one woman and injuring two others. He acknowledged that there were Kurdish rebel bases in the area, but said they were far from the villages that were hit.
"The villagers are now scared and are hiding in nearby caves. They lost all their properties," Ibrahim said.
Villages are scattered in the Qandil mountains, some as far as an hour's drive apart over steep roads and paths. The region that was attacked was about 105 miles from the Turkish border.
Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, told AP Television News: "We call on the Turkish army to differentiate between the PKK and the ordinary people. We don't want the conflict between the Turkish troops and the PKK to turn into a conflict between the Turkish forces and the people of Kurdistan."
Turkey's NTV television claimed that one of the targets hit was a PKK "command center" in northern Iraq.
However, news reports in the past weeks have suggested that PKK fighters may have dispersed from camps in northern Iraq, worried about a possible attack from Turkey.
U.S. promised to share intel with Turkey
The attack came a month after the United States promised to share intelligence with Turkey about the PKK.
The United States and Iraq have urged Turkey to avoid a major operation against rebel bases in northern Iraq, fearing such an operation would destabilize what has been the calmest region in the country.
Turkish forces have periodically shelled across the Iraqi border, and have sometimes carried out "hot pursuits" — limited raids on the Iraqi side that sometimes last only a few hours.
In a Nov. 5 meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Bush declared the PKK a "common enemy" and promised to share intelligence on the group.
"This operation, which was carried out under night conditions, was a success," Erdogan said Sunday. "Our struggle (against the PKK) will continue inside and outside Turkey with the same determination."
Turkey leader vows to 'press ahead'
The military said the air strikes began at 1 a.m., with all planes returning to their bases safely by around 4:15 a.m. The army then continued firing on the targets with long-range weapons, the military said.
Artillery units fired shells toward Iraq from the town of Cukurca, where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq meet, footage from the private Dogan news agency showed.
Private NTV television said some 50 warplanes were involved in the airstrikes.
Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek urged Kurdish separatists to surrender and said Turkey would press ahead with operations against rebel bases in northern Iraq "with determination when necessary."