ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) – The Turkish military said Saturday that more than 150 Kurdish rebels were killed in a cross-border air raid into northern Iraq earlier this week, possibly including some senior members of the rebel group. But Kurdish rebels disputed that, saying only six rebels had been killed.
According a written statement issued by the Turkish military, Turkish warplanes successfully hit all their intended targets in a three-hour air operation on Mount Qandil in Iraq. The air raid ended early Friday, the military said.
It had earlier reported that its warplanes bombed havens of the Kurdish rebel group PKK deep inside Iraq but had not given any figures for rebel casualties.
“According to initial assessments, more than 150 terrorists were rendered inefficient and the operation led to panic among the members of the terrorist organization,” the statement said.
Among the targets were “places where a terrorist who is trying to run the terrorist organization often stays,” it said. “Senior members may be among those terrorists who were rendered inefficient.”
The military generally refers to killed rebels by saying they have been “rendered inefficient” a euphemism designed to distance Turkish soldiers from the brutality of killing.
Firat, a pro-Kurdish news agency based in Europe, citing a rebel statement, said six Kurdish rebels were killed in the operation. And it said the killed men were members of PEJAK, a breakaway faction of the PKK that targets only Iran, and posted on its Web site old photos of them taken in front of a green and yellow rebel banner.
The air raid took place in a remote mountainous area, and the number of dead could not be verified independently.
The military on Friday had released footage of the raid. It said 43 rebel targets, including 29 shelters, were attacked. There were conflicting reports on rebel casualties in the operation’s immediate aftermath, too. The military said then that “a large number” of rebels were killed, but a rebel spokesman countered that none had been killed or injured.
An official from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party said villagers told him four rebels were killed in the operation. The official declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Turkey, like the United States and the European Union, lists the PKK, the Kurdish acronym for Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as a terrorist organization.
The Kurdish party took up arms in 1984 in an effort to win self-rule in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. The fighting has killed tens of thousands of people in the years since.
The group maintains bases in the north of neighboring Iraq, which it uses as a launch pad for attacks against targets inside Turkey.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party leadership is believed to be hiding in the Qandil region, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Turkish border. The Turkish military has launched several air assaults on Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq in recent months. In February, it staged a major ground offensive that lasted eight days. Since then, clashes between rebels and Turkish troops have erupted along Turkey’s border with Iraq. Until the most recent air raid, the military had not announced an operation that penetrated into Iraq as far as Mt. Qandil.