TUNCELI, Turkey, (Reuters) – Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish guerrilla targets in northern Iraq on Saturday in a new cross-border offensive, the General Staff said.
The Turkish military said the offensive against outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas inside Turkey and across the border in northern Iraq would continue. “Turkish Air Force warplanes struck important targets of the PKK/KONGRA-GEL terror group in northern Iraq … between the hours of 14:25-15:00 (1225-1300 GMT),” the General Staff statement, posted on its website, said. “The PKK will understand through experience that northern Iraq is not a safe place and they will understand once again that they have no chance against the Turkish military,” it said.
Turkey says it has the right to use force to combat separatist rebels who shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq and mount attacks in which they have killed dozens of Turkish troops in recent months. But the United States and the European Union fear a further escalation in tension could destabilise the region.
The military said the Turkish warplanes returned safely to bases after the attacks. It said it was too early to give any casualty figures.
Iraqi Kurdish security forces said they had suffered no casualties in the bombing. “The aerial bombardment didn’t result in any people killed because the area is almost deserted because of fear of aerial and mortar attacks from the Turkish side,” Jabbar Yawer, spokesman for Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga security forces, said.
The Turkish military said its ground forces fired on the same PKK targets two hours after the aerial bombardment.
Senior military sources in southeast Turkey told Reuters at least 10 warplanes participated in the air offensive, targeting approximately five areas where the PKK are believed to take refuge during the winter months.
NATO-member Turkey has stepped up its offensive against Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq over the past week, launching two offensives, one involving 50 fighter jets on Dec. 16 and the other involving several hundred ground troops two days later.
U.S. intelligence shared with Turkey led to the Dec. 16 bombing raids, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.
The General Staff said hundreds of PKK guerrillas were eliminated in the recent operations. No further details were provided.
Ankara blames the PKK — considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union — for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since it began an armed struggle for a separate Kurdish homeland in 1984.
Turkey says 3,000 PKK fighters are based in camps in northern Iraq.