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Turkish F-16s patrol Iraqi border

June 4, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Turkish Armed Forces' 'Operation Sledgehammer' is well underway in Şırnak. Two Turkish F-16s carried out a patrol flight in the area bordering Iraq.

TuAF F-16C block 50 #94-0094 with a sister jet both from 152 Filo are seen going vertical during a mission as part of Anatolian Eagle. [TuAF photo]

Military vehicles from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been transported via railway to Nusaybin, in Mardin, from where they are deployed via the highway to areas that are close to the border.

Turkey accused Iraqi authorities of allowing Kurdish separatists to establish bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks against Turkish targets. In the wake of several bomb attacks blamed on the separatist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week warned that his government would consider cross-border raids into Iraq against the alleged PKK bases.

The U.S. expressed its concern about a possible incursion by Turkey into northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels. The regions are under close observation by American troops, who have come from Mosul to the border town of Zaho for inspections.

The Turkish newspaper Hürriyet reported that top level American intelligence officers held meetings with Zaho's top officials and commanders. American troops have begun to control the Zaho border by ground and by air. Alongside two US helicopters surveying the border, US troops have been stationed at the Halil Ibrahim Border Gate.

Last week, two USAF F-16s crossed into Turkish airspace over the border with Iraq. According to the US, it was an honest mistake but some saw it as a warning message from Washington to Anakara not to send its troops into Iraq.

[Update 06.06.2007] The Turkish army has mounted a massive military operation against Kurdish separatists in the southeast of the country. The official Turkish news agency Cihan reports that three F-16 Fighting Falcons have carried out bombing raids on positions of the PKK Kurdistan Workers Party in northern Iraq.