More than 40 Turkish warplanes hit Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets overnight in northern Iraq, where the group has bases, in response to Sunday’s killing of 16 soldiers near the Iraqi border, the deadliest attack since a two-year-old ceasefire ended.
Tuesday’s bombing in Igdir province was the latest in a daily stream of attacks by the PKK on soldiers and police in eastern Turkey since fighting resumed in July.
President Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK had suffered “serious damage” inside and outside Turkey and was now on the back foot.
“The recent developments are a result of the ensuing panic. The losses inflicted on the organization by (Turkish military) operations can be expressed in the thousands,” he said in a speech to academics at his palace in Ankara.
The renewed conflict, weeks before polls the ruling AK Party hopes will restore its majority, has shattered a peace process launched by Erdogan in 2012 in an attempt to end an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people over three decades.
It has also complicated Turkey’s role in the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State. A Kurdish militia allied with the PKK has been battling Islamic State in northern Syria, backed by U.S. air strikes. But Turkey fears territorial gains by Syria’s Kurds will fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish population.
Dozens of F-16 and F-4 jets took part in the air operation in northern Iraq, which began around 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Monday and continued for six hours. They targeted PKK bases in Qandil, Basyan Avashin and Zap, and hit weapons and food stores as well as the militants’ machinegun positions.
Military operations involving ground troops were continuing in a forested area right on the border, security sources said, but did not confirm Turkish media reports that special forces had crossed into Iraq in a “hot pursuit” maneuver – something they have done during past periods of intense conflict.
One of the sources said scores of PKK fighters were killed in the bombing raids. The PKK, which launched a separatist insurgency in 1984, is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and United States.
The Igdir attack came as police traveled in a minibus to a border gate linking Turkey to the autonomous Nakhchivan enclave, sandwiched between Armenia and Iran and controlled by Azerbaijan, the Dogan news agency reported.
Erdogan said on Sunday that some 2,000 PKK militants had been killed since the conflict resumed in July. Around 100 members of Turkish security forces have been killed, based on information from government officials and security sources.
The PKK attacks have triggered nationalist anger against Kurds. The Istanbul branch of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said on Twitter that 126 of the party’s buildings around the country were attacked on Monday.
Crowds near the Mediterranean city of Mersin closed a highway and attacked buses traveling to largely Kurdish regions, breaking windows with rocks, newspapers reported.
About 2,000 people overran a state construction project in Erzurum province, angry with a group of ethnic Kurdish builders suspected of sympathizing with the PKK, the leftwing daily BirGun said. CNN Turk news channel said Kurdish seasonal farm laborers in the town of Beypazari near the capital Ankara barely escaped a group that attempted to lynch them.