Turkey Strikes Positions of Kurdish Militants from Outlawed PKK in Iraq, Syria

Turkish Soldiers with tanks are seen returning from Syria to Turkey after a military operation at the Syrian border, August 27, 2016. Photo: Sedat Suna/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Turkey has hit what is says are targets of the illegal Kurdish group PKK in Iraq and Syria.
  • Turkish military has stated the goal of the air strikes was to prevent the PKK and its allies from bringing weapons and explosives into Turkey.
  • For the first time, Turkey has hit the area of the Sinjar Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • There are reports that 18 Syrian Kurdish fighters and 6 fighters of the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga force have been killed in the strikes.
  • Turkey deems the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG an affiliate of the outlawed PKK but enjoys good relations with the autonomous government of Iraqi Kurdistan, which in turn is opposed to the PKK and the YPG.

Turkey’s military has carried out air strikes in Northern Iraq and Northeast Syria against positions of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a group blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US for using violence to fight for the independence of the Kurds living in Southeast Turkey.

The PKK has been waging a guerilla war and committing terrorist attacks against Turkey since 1984, in a conflict which has claimed more than 40,000 lives.

In addition to Turkey, large ethnic Kurdish communities also live in Syria, Iran, and Iraq. The Kurds in Iraq enjoy an autonomy in the former of the Kurdistan Regional Government, also known as Iraqi Kurdistan, an entity the size of Scotland which might decide to seek formal independence.

Turkey’s government has had good relations with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan but not with the political and military organizations of the Kurds in Syria, which have been opposing its forces and allies in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.

Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG (“People’s Protection Units”) and its political wing, PYD (“Democratic Union Party”) as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK.

The YPG makes up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but fight mostly against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The YPG has also established cooperation with Russia.

The Turkish government recently said it had completed “successfully” a major military operation in its war-torn neighbor Syria but that it would not be withdrawing its forces from there.

‘Terror Hubs’

The Turkish military on Tuesday carried out air strikes against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants near the Sinjar mountains in Northern Iraq, i.e. Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as in northeastern Syria, it announced, as cited by Turkish news site Hurriyet Daily News.

It also said the goal of its air strikes on the PKK had been to prevent the group from sending weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey.

The Turkish air strikes in Iraq and Syria were executed at about 2 am in the morning on Tuesday.

Turkey’s military also alleged that the two bombed regions in Iraq and Syria had become “terror hubs”, with the PKK frequently using them to channel militants, weapons, bombs and ammunition into Turkey.

“To destroy these terror hubs which threaten the security, unity and integrity of our country and our nation and as part of our rights based on international law, air strikes have been carried out….and terrorist targets have been struck with success,” the Turkish army said in a statement.

It vowed to continue operations against the PKK until the “last terrorist is eliminated.”

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has argued for months that the PKK has taken a foothold in Sinjar region in Iraq’s northwest, around 115 km (70 miles) south of the Turkish border.

Although Turkey regularly carries out air strikes against what it says are PKK targets in Northern Iraq, this was the first time it has struck the Sinjar region.

It November 2016, the Turkish army deployed tanks and armored vehicles to the border town of Silopi, around the time Iraqi forces supported by the United States launched an operation to drive ISIS out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Back then the Turkish government said the move was to fortify Turkey’s defenses against developments across its borders.

‘Unacceptable’ Air Strikes

The Turkish military’s announcement about its strikes in Iraq and Syria gave no details of casualties.

Howevever, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is monitoring the Syrian conflict, said that at least 18 Kurdish fighters and media officials from The People’s Protection Units (YPG) were killed when Turkish warplanes hit a media center.

The Observatory bases its reports on information gathered from a network of activists on the ground in Syria.

In Iraq, Kurdish sources said that six fighters of the Iraqi-Kurdish force known as Peshmerga were killed by accident during a Turkish strike on a nearby PKK position.

The government of Iraqi Kurdistan said in a statement that the Turkish air strikes on the Peshmerga were “unacceptable,” but that the apparent accident should be blamed on the PKK, whose affiliates were the target of the strikes.

In light of its good relations with Turkey, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan appears to be opposed to the PKK group of the Turkish Kurds, and their alleged Syrian Kurdish allies, the YPG.

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