US Troops Leave Iraq but US Drones Remain
December 18, 2011
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com & Craig Whitlock / The Washington Post
With so much attention on the removal of the US military presence from the streets of Iraq, very little was paid to the skies. Looking up, however, Iraqis will continue to see the US looming overhead. Baghdad has given Washington permission to keep flying Predator drones on surveillance missions over northern Iraq. The unmanned airplanes, which operate out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, are being used to look for fighters from the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK.
Troops Leave But Iraq Allows
US Predator Drones to Remain with
Drones Operating Out of Turkey
Jason Ditz / Anti-War.com
(December 16, 2011) -- With so much attention on the removal of the US military presence from the streets of Iraq, very little was paid to the skies. Looking up, however, Iraqis will continue to see the US looming overhead.
That's because according to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the Iraqi government has granted the US permission to continue to fly Predator Drones over Iraqi airspace, nominally to look for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants. The drones will fly out of Turkey's Incirlik Air Base
The PKK's operations are almost exclusively a Turkish problem, with the group launching regular attacks against military targets inside of Turkey. They often use the mountainous regions in Iraqi Kurdistan as a hiding place after attacks.
The revelation is likely to be controversial inside Iraq, as the drones will be facilitating Turkish strikes on Iraqi territory at a time when the Iraqi government has been publicly demanding that Turkey halt such attacks.
US Drones Allowed in Iraqi Skies
Craig Whitlock / The Washington Post
ANKARA, Turkey (Decembr 16, 2011) -- American troops are almost gone from Iraq, but that doesn't mean the US military will cease its operations there entirely.
Baghdad has given Washington permission to keep flying Predator drones on surveillance missions over northern Iraq, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Friday. The unmanned airplanes, which operate out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, are being used to look for fighters from the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK.
The US military had flown the Predators on anti-PKK missions since 2007 from Iraqi bases, but had to move them out of the country this fall as part of the American withdrawal from Iraq. US defense officials had previously acknowledged relocating the drones to Turkey, but Panetta's statement was the first confirmation that they were still authorized to fly in Iraqi airspace.
The Kurdish group, which is fighting to create an autonomous enclave in Turkey, has launched cross-border attacks from its camps in northern Iraq for years. Turkey has responded with airstrikes and artillery attacks and has also sent ground troops into Iraq, further destabilizing a volatile area.
The US government officially labels the PKK a terrorist organization, although the group has not targeted American interests. Turkey is a key NATO ally of the United States.
The Predators based at Incirlik are unarmed. The US military shares video surveillance from the planes with the Turkey, which considers the data a valuable tool for its anti-PKK operations.
The military assistance has been a key factor in strengthening US-Turkish relations in recent years. Panetta said he stressed to President Abdullah Gul and Turkish military leaders that Washington's efforts to counter the PKK would not end after the United States pulls out of Iraq this month.
"I made very clear the United States will continue to assist Turkey in confronting this threat," Panetta told reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
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