US steering clear of Kurdish fight

WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq said Friday he plans to do “absolutely nothing” to counter Kurdish rebels who are staging deadly cross-border attacks into neighboring Turkey.

It was the most blunt assertion yet by an American official in the last few weeks that U.S. forces should not be involved in the fight. The Bush administration has said repeatedly that the border crisis should be resolved through diplomacy.

Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency reported Turkish airstrikes on suspected rebel positions Friday and Ankara has threatened a large-scale offensive into Iraq if U.S. and Iraqi authorities don’t stop the rebels. On Friday, Iraq and Turkish officials held the latest in a series of diplomatic meetings aimed at ending the standoff.

Asked what the U.S. military was planning to do, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon said: “Absolutely nothing.”

Mixon said it’s not his responsibility, that he’s sent no additional U.S. troops to the border area and he’s not tracking hiding places or logistics activities of rebels from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK.

He also has not seen Kurdish Iraqi authorities move against the rebels either, Mixon told Pentagon reporters by videoconference from a U.S. base near Tikrit in northern Iraq.

“I have not seen any overt action … But those are the types of activities that are managed and coordinated at higher levels than my own,” he said.

Top Defense Department and State Department officials this week said that Iraq’s Kurdish regional government should cut rebel supplies and disrupt rebel movement over the border, adding that Washington is increasingly frustrated by Kurdish inaction.

As Turkey has increased pressure for someone to act, Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that U.S. forces are tied up with the fight against insurgents and al-Qaida elsewhere in Iraq.

Few of the roughly 170,000 U.S. military forces in Iraq are along the border with Turkey. But there is ample air power available.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested this week that airstrikes or major ground assaults by U.S., Turkish, or other forces wouldn’t help much because not enough is known about where the rebels are hiding at a given time.

Asked during a NATO meeting in Europe about the prospects of U.S. military strikes, he said: “Without good intelligence, just sending large numbers of troops across the border or dropping bombs doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.”

Americans also fear that a full-scale battle in the north would destabilize what has been one of the most prosperous and peaceful parts of Iraq in recent years — a region run by Kurds who have some sympathies with the rebels.

Asked if he has detected PKK supply lines running through his area that Iraqi Kurdish authorities could curtail, Mixon said: “That would be speculation … I don’t track the specific locations of the PKK. So you’d have to ask somebody else.”

Mixon would not even talk in general about the PKK’s fighting abilities. He was asked why such a small group of an estimated few thousand guerrillas is considered so effective, tenacious and threatening to Turkey.

“I have no idea,” he said. “You’ll have to ask somebody in the Turkish government.”

Does he think he has any responsibility to try to avoid a Turkish incursion into the north?

“I have not been given any requirements or any responsibility for that,” he said.

But if terrorists are operating in his region, he was asked, why not get involved?

“Let me put it to you very clearly,” he answered. The provincial Kurdish authorities have their own Peshmerga militia, Mixon and, “it’s their responsibility” in three northern provinces of Iraq.

He said no one has specifically told him to ignore the rebel problem, “but I hadn’t been given instructions to do anything about it, either.”

If he were ordered to do something, would he have enough U.S. troops?

“That’s a hypothetical question,” Mixon replied. “I haven’t studied it.

“I haven’t been given any instructions that would even vaguely resemble what you just mentioned,” the general said. “So I don’t see any sense in talking about it.”

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Czech Govt. supports US missile defense

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – The Czech government firmly favors hosting a U.S. missile defense site but believes it will take longer to negotiate a deal than U.S. officials had hoped, a senior Czech official said Tuesday.

Tomas Pojar, deputy minister of foreign affairs, told U.S. reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates that his government’s support is based not only on a shared worry about future missile threats but also a “moral, historical” sense of appreciation for American support for Czech democracy.

He also stressed that Prague does not intend to rush a deal, and he predicted that it will be difficult to win approval in parliament.

“I think it’s going to take a few more months” than the U.S. timetable, which calls for completing negotiations by the end of the year and winning parliamentary approval next spring, Pojar said in an interview over breakfast at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while Gates was meeting with President Vaclav Klaus.

Pojar said he takes little stock in public opinion polls that show a majority of Czechs oppose having a U.S. missile defense site on their territory.

Gates later held talks with Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova and was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek as well as with members of parliament with a range of views on missile defense.

The Pentagon wants to install 10 interceptor rockets in Poland which, when linked to a proposed tracking radar in the Czech Republic and to other elements of the existing U.S. missile defense system based in the United States, could defend all of Europe against a long-range missile fired from the Middle East.
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