Turkey Launches Airstrikes Against Kurdish Militants in Iraq and Syria After 9 Soldiers Were Killed

a locator map for Syria with its capital, Damascus.
This is a locator map for Syria with its capital, Damascus. (AP Photo)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey carried out airstrikes targeting Kurdish militants in neighboring Iraq and Syria on Saturday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said, coming a day after an attack on a Turkish military base in Iraq killed nine Turkish soldiers.

Turkey often launches strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq it believes to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a banned Kurdish separatist group that has waged an insurgency against Turkey since the 1980s.

The defense ministry said that aircraft struck targets in Metina, Hakurk, Gara and Qandil in northern Iraq, but didn't specify areas in Syria. It said fighter jets destroyed caves, bunkers, shelters and oil facilities “to eliminate terrorist attacks against our people and security forces ... and to ensure our border security." The statement added “many” militants were “neutralized” in the strikes.

On Friday night, attackers attempted to infiltrate a military base in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, killing five soldiers. Four others died later of critical injuries. The Turkish government said that 36 militants were killed in Iraq, and nine others in Syria, in the 24 hours following the attack.

There was no immediate comment from the PKK, the government in Baghdad or the Kurdish region's administration.

Turkey launched Operation Claw-Lock in northern Iraq in April 2022, during which it established several bases in Duhok Governorate. Baghdad has repeatedly protested the presence of Turkish troops and called for their withdrawal.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan expressed his condolences for the deaths of the Turkish soldiers.

“We will fight to the end against the PKK terrorist organization within and outside our borders,” he tweeted.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later chaired a security meeting in Istanbul at which Turkey's counterterrorism strategy was evaluated, the government said in statement.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced police had detained 113 people suspected of ties to the PKK following raids across 32 Turkish provinces.

He added that six people were arrested after police identified 110 social media accounts that “praised the separatist terrorist organization for provocative purposes” or had spread misleading information.

Three weeks ago, PKK-affiliated militants tried to break into a Turkish base in northern Iraq, according to Turkish officials, leaving six soldiers dead. The following day, six more Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes.

Turkey retaliated by launching strikes against sites that officials said were associated with the PKK in Iraq and Syria. Defense Minister Yasar Guler said at the time that dozens of Kurdish militants were killed in airstrikes and land assaults.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Friday night's attack and the one three weeks earlier targeted the same base. The Rudaw news website, based in Erbil in northern Iraq, reported that the base attacked on Friday was located on Mount Zap in Amedi district, which lies 17 kilometers (about 10 miles) from the Turkish border.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu said that a senior PKK militant was “neutralized” in Iraq. Faik Aydin was targeted in an operation run by Turkish intelligence agency MIT, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) inside the Turkey-Iraq frontier, Anadolu reported.

The PKK, which maintains bases in northern Iraq, is considered a terror organization by Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States. Tens of thousands of people have died since the start of the conflict in 1984.

Turkey and the U.S., however, disagree on the status of the Syrian Kurdish groups, which have been allied with Washington in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

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