ISTANBUL/ANKARA, (Reuters) – Several hundred Turkish soldiers have been deployed to provide training for Iraqi troops in an area near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which is under Islamic State control, a Turkish security source told Reuters yesterday.
Islamic State militants overran Mosul, a city of more than one million people, in June 2014, but a much anticipated counter-offensive by Iraqi forces has been repeatedly postponed because they are involved in fighting elsewhere.
“Turkish soldiers have reached the Mosul Bashiqa region. They are there as part of routine training exercises. One battalion has crossed into the region,” the source said, declining to say exactly how many soldiers had been deployed. He said troops had already been in Iraqi Kurdistan and had moved to Mosul accompanied by armoured vehicles, in a move which coalition countries targeting Islamic State were aware of.
Video released on the website of Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper showed flatbed trucks carrying armoured vehicles along a road at night, describing them as a convoy accompanying the Turkish troops to Bashiqa.
A statement from the Iraqi prime minister’s media office confirmed that Turkish troops numbering “around one armed battalion with a number of tanks and cannons” had entered its territory near Mosul without request or permission from Baghdad authorities. It called on the forces to leave immediately.
In a separate statement flashed on state TV, the Iraqi foreign ministry called the Turkish activity “an incursion” and rejected any military operation that was not coordinated with the federal government.
A senior Kurdish military officer based on the Bashiqa front line, north of Mosul, said additional Turkish trainers had arrived at a camp in the area overnight on Thursday escorted by a Turkish protection force.
He said he was not aware of the size of the force and refused to speculate.
The camp is used by a force called Hashid Watani (national mobilisation), which is made up of mainly Sunni Arab former Iraqi police and volunteers from Mosul.