U.S. Asks Turkey to Leave Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey -- The United States called on Thursday for NATO ally Turkey to end its ground offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq as soon as possible, but Ankara said it would stay until the job was done.

The head of Turkey's military General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, was quoted by CNN Turk as saying: "A short time is a relative concept, it could be one day or one year."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in Ankara that he had been given no timetable for a withdrawal.

"The key is for us to make clear what our interests are, our concerns about the situation in Iraq," he said after meeting Turkey's defense minister.

Washington fears that a prolonged operation will undermine stability in the region, particularly Iraq, though it backs Ankara's mission to crush the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and last year began providing intelligence to do so.

"It should be clear that military action alone will not end this terrorist threat," Gates added, saying Ankara must also take political and economic steps to isolate the PKK guerrillas and help support Turkey's large ethnic Kurdish minority.

Turkey's defense minister, Vecdi Gonul, said troops, battling icy winter conditions, would remain in Iraq as long as necessary to accomplish their goal of ending the PKK threat from bordering northern Iraq.

Thousands of Turkish troops, backed by warplanes and attack helicopters, crossed the border on Feb. 21 to root out PKK fighters and destroy their numerous bases.