Turkey has launched a series of airstrikes targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq and Syria in retaliation after 9 Turkish soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on a Turkish military base in northern Iraq over the weekend.
Turkey has been battling the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which it considers a terrorist organization, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. The PKK has bases in northern Iraq and its affiliates control territory in northern Syria.
Tensions between Turkey and the PKK have escalated in recent months. In November, Turkey launched a series of airstrikes against Kurdish militant targets in Iraq and Syria after a bombing in Istanbul.
The Attack on the Turkish Military Base
On January 12th, 2024, Kurdish militants fired rockets at a Turkish military base in the Gara region of northern Iraq, an area controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government. The attack killed 9 Turkish soldiers and injured 4 others.
Turkey blamed the attack on the PKK, though the militants did not claim responsibility. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened an emergency security meeting to respond to the deadly attack.
“We have given the necessary responses immediately, effectively and proportionately,” the Turkish government said in a statement.
Turkey’s Retaliatory Airstrikes
In retaliation for the attack, Turkey has carried out multiple waves of airstrikes targeting Kurdish militant positions in northern Iraq and Syria.
First Wave of Turkish Airstrikes
On January 13th, Turkish warplanes bombed PKK targets in the Asos and Hakurk regions of northern Iraq. Turkish authorities claimed the airstrikes killed at least 36 militants.
Turkey also struck People’s Protection Units (YPG) sites in the Kobani and Derik regions of Syria. The YPG is linked to the PKK militant group that Turkey considers terrorists.
Second Wave of Turkish Airstrikes
On January 14th, Turkish jets bombed additional PKK targets in northern Iraq, including their headquarters in Iraq’s Qandil mountains where high-level militant commanders were thought to be meeting.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said airstrikes hit 89 targets, including shelters, bunkers, caves, tunnels, ammunition depots and so-called “headquarters.”
Akar said Turkey aimed to secure its southern borders from “terror” by creating a 30-kilometer (19 mile) deep safe zone.
By January 15th, Turkey said it had “neutralized” nearly 70 militants in northern Iraq and Syria. Turkish authorities use the term “neutralize” to imply militants were killed, injured or captured.
Third Wave of Turkish Airstrikes
On January 16th, Turkey launched a third wave of airstrikes targeting PKK positions in northern Iraq as well as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) positions in Syria, who Turkey accuses of being affiliated with the PKK.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the strikes hit 89 additional targets including shelters, caves and ammunition depots and killed another 26 militants.
The U.S. State Department said it opposed any military action that destabilized the region. Russia expressed concern the strikes could escalate tensions in the region.
The PKK said Turkey used the soldiers’ deaths as a pretext to launch an unprovoked wave of aggression against Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria who pose no threat to Turkey.
Experts warn the retaliatory strikes could mark a dangerous escalation and spark another bloody phase in the decades-long conflict between Turkey and the PKK.
Both sides have vowed to continue fighting. Turkey’s President Erdogan said the military would not stop its “struggle against terrorism” while the PKK said it would “resist the occupation by the Turkish state.”
Further Turkish military action targeting Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria is expected as Turkey tries to prevent the PKK and its affiliates from organizing militant operations across the border. Turkish troops may also launch a ground offensive in northern Iraq.
The conflict threatens to destabilize Turkey’s relations with the United States over their diverging interests in Syria. While Turkey sees the YPG as a serious threat, the United States allied with the Syrian Kurdish fighters to combat ISIS.
Experts say the strikes underscore Turkey’s growing military involvement across borders as Erdogan seeks re-election in 2023. Domestically, the deadly militant attack on Turkish troops could whip up nationalist sentiment before elections.
Ultimately, ending the bloodshed will require a political solution between Turkey and the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan regarding Kurdish rights and autonomy. But after the breakdown of a fragile peace process in 2015, such negotiations remain unlikely in the near future.
|Turkish soldiers killed
|Kurdish militants “neutralized”
|9 killed, 4 injured
This story brings together information from multiple news sources to provide up-to-date details and analysis on Turkey’s retaliatory strikes against Kurdish militants after an attack killed Turkish soldiers. It includes background context about the conflict, a timeline of the recent airstrikes, international reaction, expectations for what’s next, and a summary table of casualties. The goal is to deliver a comprehensive overview of the latest developments surrounding this event.
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