Turkish forces have launched a series of air strikes in northern Iraq, targeting fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Ankara accuses the PKK of using Iraq as a base to launch attacks against its forces inside Turkey. As Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul, these latest airstrikes come ahead of an expected spring offensive by the PKK.

Turkey's military says its warplanes and artillery targeted rebels who were trying to infiltrate into Turkey from northern Iraq. The region, close to the border with Turkey, was hit on Friday and early Saturday.

In a brief statement Saturday, the military said all planes returned safely to their bases.

Although Turkish forces entered Iraq in February, fighting PKK militants during an 8-day incursion, retired general Haldun Solmazturk, who fought the PKK for a decade, says the rebels remain a threat.

"They have the ability to practically ambush Turkish units inside Turkey, and they have the ability to attack military outposts, presumably well prepared, well armed, well equipped," he said.

Turkish analysts say the latest attacks by Turkey's military are not an escalation of the conflict. Solmazturk says they are part of a policy to break the rebels' will to fight.

"It will achieve above all a psychological effect that will carry the message to the PKK that northern Iraq is not a safe haven and it can be reached by anytime by the Turkish state," he added.

The U.S. has said it is assisting Turkey with intelligence on PKK fighters in Iraq, but Washington has voiced concern that Turkish attacks in Iraq could further destabilize that country.

Also Iraqi Kurds, allied with the U.S., have strongly condemned Turkey's operations. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on a visit to Ankara earlier this year, pressed Turkey to change its policy.

"It should be clear that military action alone will not end this terrorist threat," he said.  "While it is certainly part of the equation, there must be simultaneous efforts, with non-military initiatives and political outreach."

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey's southeast since 1984.
Last month, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a development package for the impoverished predominantly Kurdish region in southeastern Turkey. Mr. Erdogan also announced plans to ease tight controls on Kurdish broadcasting.

But reforms have been met with skepticism by the country's main Kurdish party.  It says the reforms are too little too late.