(AFP)  ANKARA — The United States will maintain its support of Turkey in the fight against Kurdish rebels, visiting US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday.

“In my discussions here in Ankara, I made very clear that the United States would continue to assist Turkey in confronting this threat,” Panetta told a press conference.

The United States said in October it planned to sell Turkey with three new Super Cobra attack helicopters for the campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in a deal worth $111 million.

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community including Washington, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeast Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

The United States also said in November it was redeploying four Predator drones to Turkey from northern Iraq, with the withdrawal of US troops from the country.

“We’re prepared to discuss further efforts to try to improve the capabilities” of Turkey regarding drones, Panetta said without elaborating.

Some members of the US Congress are opposed to the possible provision of drones to Ankara as they are concerned about the strained ties between Turkey and Israel.

“We try to share that information with the Congress so that they understand why this is important we take those steps. We continue to explore other steps that can be taken to assist Turkey in the effort to deal with the PKK,” Panetta said.

Relations between one-time allies Turkey and Israel plunged into crisis after Israeli commandos killed nine Turks on board a flagship of a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip last year.

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20 December 2011

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