Turkey strikes Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria after soldiers killed

Turkey has launched airstrikes against Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria, a day after an attack on a Turkish base in Iraq killed nine soldiers, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. The strikes are part of Turkey’s ongoing campaign against the PKK, a banned Kurdish separatist group.

Turkey's fighter jet
Photo courtesy: slezo, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, Turkey conducted airstrikes against Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria, which border Turkey. The airstrikes happened one day after nine Turkish soldiers died in an attack on a Turkish military base in Iraq.

Turkey frequently attacks targets in Syria and Iraq that it thinks are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that is outlawed in Turkey and has been fighting against the Turkish state since the 1980s.

The defense ministry stated that aircraft hit targets in Metina, Hakurk, Gara and Qandil in northern Iraq, but did not mention any specific locations in Syria. It claimed that fighter jets demolished caves, bunkers, shelters and oil facilities “to prevent terrorist attacks against our people and security forces … and to secure our border.” The statement also said “many” militants were “neutralised” in the airstrikes.

On Friday night, assailants tried to enter a Turkey’s military base in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which has some autonomy from the central government, and killed five soldiers. Four more soldiers succumbed to their severe wounds later. The Turkish Defence Ministry reported that 15 militants also died.

The PKK, the government in Baghdad, and the Kurdish regional administration did not comment on the incident immediately.

Turkey started Operation Claw-Lock in northern Iraq in April 2022, and set up several bases in Duhok Governorate. Baghdad has repeatedly objected to the presence of Turkish troops and demanded their withdrawal.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan offered his sympathy for the deaths of the Turkish soldiers on X, formerly Twitter.

He wrote: “We will fight to the end against the PKK terrorist organisation within and outside our borders.”

Fahrettin Altun, the president’s communications director, also wrote on X that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would have a security meeting in Istanbul later on Saturday.

In the meantime, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said police arrested 113 people who were suspected of having ties to the PKK after raids in 32 Turkish provinces.

He also said that four people were taken into custody after police found 60 social media accounts that “praised the separatist terrorist organisation for provocative purposes” or disseminated false information.

Three weeks ago, militants affiliated with the PKK attempted to storm a Turkish base in northern Iraq, according to Turkish officials, and killed six soldiers. The next day, six more Turkish soldiers died in clashes.

Turkey responded by attacking sites that officials said were related to the PKK in Iraq and Syria. Defence Minister Yasar Guler said at that time that airstrikes and ground operations killed dozens of Kurdish militants.

It was not clear if the attack on Friday night and the one three weeks ago targeted the same base. The Rudaw news website, based in Erbil in northern Iraq, said that the base attacked on Friday was on Mount Zap in Amedi district, which is 17 kilometres (10 miles) from the Turkish border.

Additionally, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu said a senior PKK militant was “neutralised” in Iraq. Faik Aydin was the target of an operation by the Turkish intelligence agency, or MIT, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) inside the Turkey-Iraq border, Anadolu said.

The PKK, which has bases in northern Iraq, is regarded as a terror organisation by Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States. The conflict has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people since it began in 1984.

However, Turkey and the US have different views on the status of the Syrian Kurdish groups, which have cooperated with Washington in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

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