ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey said Wednesday it has airlifted troops for a cross-border ground operation against Turkey’s Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, the first known airborne-and-land offensive by Ankara inside Iraqi territory.
The airborne offensive into Iraq’s border region of Haftanin, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the Turkey-Iraq border, was launched following intense artillery fire into the area, said the Defense Ministry in Ankara.
The operation by commando forces is being supported by warplanes, attack helicopters, artillery and armed and unarmed drones, according to the ministry’s statement posted on Twitter. It did not say how many troops are involved.
Turkey regularly carries out air and ground attacks against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which it says maintains bases in northern Iraq. Wednesday’s was the first known airborne and land offensive.
Turkey has defended its past operations into northern Iraq, saying neither the Iraqi government nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have acted to remove PKK insurgents who allegedly use Iraq’s territory to stage attacks on Turkey.
The ministry said Wednesday’s operation follows “increasing harassment and attempts to attack” military outposts or bases in Turkey. It said the Turkish forces would target other “terror” groups in the region, but did not name them.
“Operation Claw-Tiger is continuing successfully as planned,” the ministry said. It shared videos of Defense Minister Hulusi Akar overseeing the mission at a command center in Ankara.
It came days after Turkey launched an air operation in the region, which the Defense Ministry said hit suspected PKK targets in several locations in Iraq’s north, including Sinjar, and targeted 81 rebel hideouts.
A military official said the operation began with artillery units targeting some 150 suspected PKK positions and was followed by an aerial attack involving F-16s, drones and attack helicopters.
Some of the commandos crossed the border by land while other units were transported by helicopters. The troops had began to enter PKK hideouts in Haftanin, the official said, providing the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
It was not clear if the latest offensive would target the Sinjar region, where the Turkish government says has become a new base PKK commanders.
A video provided by the Defense Ministry, showed Akar addressing the commandos: “You have always demonstrated the Turkish military’s force. I believe that you will demonstrate it again.”
“Turkey continues its fight against terrorists using the rights based on international law,” said Omer Celik, the deputy chairman of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party. “It is our most natural right and duty to fight terrorists who attack our borders, citizens, and security forces.”
There was no immediate reaction from the PKK or from Baghdad and northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Iraq’s government however, summoned the Turkish ambassador on Tuesday to protest against the aerial offensive.
The PKK has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region. It is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. The conflict has led to the loss of tens of thousands lives since it started in 1984.
Image: In this Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, fighters of the Turkey-based Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) walk in the damaged streets of Sinjar, Iraq. Turkey said Wednesday, June 17, 2020, it has airlifted troops for a cross-border ground operation against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq. Turkey regularly carries out air and ground attacks against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which maintains bases in northern Iraq. Wednesday’s was the first known airborne land offensive. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen, File)