ANKARA, Turkey — Several thousand Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq early today to chase Kurdish guerrillas who attack Turkey from bases there, two Turkish security officials said. Turkey’s foreign minister denied its troops had entered Iraq.
Two senior security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, characterized the action as a “hot pursuit” raid that was limited in scope. They said it did not constitute the kind of large incursion Turkish leaders have been discussing in recent weeks as Turkish troops have built up their force along the border.
One official said the troops went less than two miles inside Iraq and were still there in late afternoon. “It is a hot pursuit, not an incursion,” one official said.
Another official said by telephone it was “not a major offensive, and the number of troops is not in the tens of thousands.” He also said the Turkish troops went into a remote mountainous area.
The officials are based in southeastern Turkey, where the military has been battling separatist Kurdish rebels since they took up arms in 1984.
The officials stood by their statement despite denials from Turkish and Iraqi officials.
Turkey’s private NTV television quoted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as saying reports of a cross-border operation were false.
“There is no such thing, no entry to another country. If such a thing happens, then we would announce it,” Mr. Gul said. “We are in a war with terror; we will do whatever is necessary to fight terrorism.”
Several military officials at the Pentagon said they have seen nothing today that would confirm the reports of Turkish troops crossing the border into Iraq.
One military official said small numbers of Turkish forces periodically move in and out of Iraq doing counterinsurgency operations, but not thousands at one time.
The U.S. has about 16,500 troops in northern Iraq, but most of them are not right along the border. Many of those are training teams working with the Iraqi border patrols.
The White House said there has been “no new activity” in northern Iraq to justify the press reports. Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said U.S. officials in the region have confirmed that the activity is a continuation of Turkey’s years-long campaign against the Kurdish PKK guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
“The Turkish government reports no new incursions into northern Iraq,” Mr. Johndroe said. “U.S. officials on the ground confirm no new activity.”
He said Washington remains “concerned about the PKK and the use of Iraq as a safe haven.”
Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said he could not confirm that any Turkish troops were in Iraq but said “we are looking into it, and obviously we are very concerned.”
The last major Turkish incursion into northern Iraq was in 1997, when about 50,000 troops were sent to the region.