Air raids by Turkey on Kurdish posts in Iraq
Violent clashes between rebels and military yesterday leave 23 dead
Turkish warplanes launched air raids at suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq yesterday after a rebel attack on a military outpost in Turkey touched off clashes in which nine soldiers and 12 rebel fighters died, Turkey's military and reports have said.
Two other soldiers were also reported killed in a land mine explosion while chasing the rebels, raising the overall death toll in yesterday's violence to 23.
Special forces were immediately sent to reinforce the border area where the clashes occurred. At least 14 other soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
Kurdish rebels have dramatically stepped up attacks in Turkey in recent months, threatening a government attempt to end one of the world's longest guerrilla wars.
The military said on Friday that more than 40 soldiers had been killed since March -- including six who died in a rocket attack on a vehicle near a naval base in southern Turkey -- and warned that it anticipated more attacks.
Turkey's military has responded by sending warplanes across the border for raids on suspected rebel bases while elite commandos crossed the border in pursuit of the rebels in a day-long incursion earlier this week.
The rebels, belonging to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, have used northern Iraq as a springboard to stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in their decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast. The Turkish military says around 4,000 rebels are based just across the border in Iraq and that about 2,500 operate inside Turkey.
The group declared it was increasing attacks on June 1, a day after imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan said in a statement relayed by his lawyers that his calls for dialogue with Turkey had been ignored and that he was giving his consent to the rebel command in northern Iraq to determine which course of action to take.
The military said yesterday's attack occurred at 2am local time on an outpost near the town of Semdinli -- a mountainous region where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet.
The US, which along with the European Union, has declared the PKK to be a terrorist group, has provided intelligence to Turkey in support of its fight against the rebels. Turkey also uses drones that it recently purchased from Israel.
The attack was met with outrage among politicians in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was determined to press ahead with the fight "until the terrorist organisation is eradicated".
On Friday, the military said it had killed as many as 120 Kurdish rebels in an air raid on rebel positions in northern Iraq last month and in last week's incursion by elite commandos.
Turkey has launched several air and ground incursions into northern Iraq over the 26 years of the insurgency, with mixed results. The rebels have returned to positions along the border soon after the troops have withdrawn.
The Turkish government has extended greater cultural rights to the Kurds, such as broadcasts in the Kurdish language on television, in an effort to win their hearts and reduce support for the rebels.
Turkey, however, rejects calls from the Kurdish rebels and politicians to allow education in schools in Kurdish.
The conflict has killed as many as 40,000 people since 1984.