(Reuters) - The U.S. government is considering a request from Turkey to base a fleet of U.S. Predator drones inside Turkey to carry out operations against separatist Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, the Washington Post has reported.
Citing unnamed senior U.S. military officials, the newspaper reported on Sunday that U.S. President Barack Obama's administration had not yet made a decision on the request.
According to the newspaper, the U.S. military has flown unarmed surveillance Predators above northern Iraq since 2007 and has shared images with Turkey as part of "a secretive joint crackdown" on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels.
It said previously undisclosed diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks showed Turkey had become "highly dependent" on the Predators and other spy aircraft in its fight against the PKK.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has fought for Kurdish self-rule for more than 27 years in a conflict that has killed 40,000 people.
All U.S. troops are due to leave Iraq at the end of 2011 meaning the Predator drones would also need to be based outside Iraq from January 1 2012, the paper said.
The United States and Iraq have started formal negotiations on whether to keep U.S. troops in Iraq under a training mission are due to leave Iraq at the end of 2011
Asked whether Turkey had made such a request, a Turkish foreign ministry official said the government never commented on matters related to intelligence or on WikiLeaks.
"Turkey is in total cooperation with every country and party to defeat this terrorist problem," the official said.
Turkey, a vital NATO ally for the United States, said last week it would host a NATO early-warning radar system as part of the defenses of the Western military alliance.
Last month, the Turkish military launched a series of air strikes and artillery raids against suspected PKK hideouts in northern Iraq in retaliation for a spate of militant attacks against the Turkish military inside Turkey.
Turkey has attacked suspected PKK bases in the mountains of northern Iraq for years and has also launched cross-border assaults. Turkey also has 1,300 soldiers in Iraq under an agreement set up with Baghdad in the 1990s, Iraq says.
(Reporting and writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Matthew Jones)