Turkey targets PKK as 16 troops killed in rebel attack
Turkey's military announced yesterday that 16 soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in a Kurdish rebel attack against troops in southeast Turkey.
The attack was the deadliest assault on Turkish troops since renewed fighting between the rebels and Turkey's security forces erupted in July, shattering a fragile peace process.
Rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, detonated roadside improvised explosive devices near the village of Daglica, in the mainly Kurdish Hakkari province, which borders Iran and Iraq, targeting soldiers who were travelling in a convoy on a mission to clear the area of mines and explosives. The attack prompted the military to launch air operations against PKK targets in the area.
Violence in Turkey escalated after a suicide bombing in July, blamed on the Islamic State group, killed 33 people near Turkey's border with Syria, including many Kurds. Kurdish rebels held the government responsible for the attack, claiming that the government had been too lenient on the jihadists, and two policemen were killed in an apparent response.
Turkey's air force conducted air raids against the Isil group in Syria following the suicide bombing and then proceeded to strike PKK targets in northern Iraq and in southeast Turkey.
The renewed fighting between the PKK and the security forces has killed about 200 people since July, including around 85 soldiers and police officers. The fighting derailed the two-and-a-half-year-old peace process with the Kurds.
It comes amid increased political uncertainty in Turkey. The country is holding a new election on November 1, following the ruling party's failure to form a coalition government after an election in June.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday the rebels first fired on the soldiers and later detonated the bombs. He said the troops were on a mission to clear the rugged terrain in Daglica of mines and explosives. Daglica, just a few kilometres from the Iraqi border, is a main crossing point for the rebels to launch attacks on Turkey from bases in northern Iraq.
"Our 16 martyred brothers were clearing the roads of land mines so that the people of the region could travel in peace," Mr Davutoglu said.
He again vowed to press ahead with the fight against terror groups.
"We will continue our struggle against terrorism in a determined manner, without making any concessions on democracy or the rules of laws," Mr Davutoglu said.
"Those mountains will be cleared of the terrorists," he said. Turkish security forces have frequently come under attack in Daglica. Separate attacks on military outposts in the mountainous regions killed 12 soldiers in 2007 and eight others in 2012.
The military statement said three F-4 jets and four F-16 were carrying out operations against PKK targets since the attack on Daglica on Sunday. It said six caves, two storage facilities, three shelters and 12 anti-aircraft machine guns were struck during the aerial operation.
The statement said none of the six wounded soldiers were in life-threatening condition.
Earlier, Firat News, a website close to the rebels, claimed that 32 soldiers were killed in the ambush.
It said the rebels hadn't sustained any casualties.
The PKK, which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey, is considered a terrorist group by the United States, European Union and Turkey. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since 1984.