Turkish jets strike PKK targets after deadly militant attack

Kurdistan Workers’ Party rebels claim to have killed 31 soldiers near the Iraqi border

 Turkish soldiers secure the area at a barricade near the Yuksekova district of Hakkari city, in the southeast of Turkey. An attack  by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party  in the south-eastern Turkish province of Hakkari killed 31 soldiers, according to the PKK. Photograph: EPA/STR

Turkish soldiers secure the area at a barricade near the Yuksekova district of Hakkari city, in the southeast of Turkey. An attack by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the south-eastern Turkish province of Hakkari killed 31 soldiers, according to the PKK. Photograph: EPA/STR

 

Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdish insurgent targets on Sunday night after the militants staged what appeared to be their deadliest attack since the collapse of a two-year-old ceasefire in July and claimed to have killed 31 government soldiers.

The military confirmed soldiers had been killed but gave no number. Its operations continued on Monday, with helicopters dropping special forces in a mountainous area near the Iraqi frontier, while drones sought out targets for the warplanes.

The clashes, weeks before polls the ruling AK Party hopes will restore its majority, threaten to sink a peace process Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan launched in 2012 in an attempt to end an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people.

Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels said they had killed 31 members of the armed forces in an attack on a convoy and clashes on Sunday in the mountainous Daglica area of Hakkari province, near the Iraqi border.

A security source said 16 soldiers had been killed, which would be the highest military death toll in a single attack for years.

Mr Erdogan said in an interview late on Sunday on the A Haber TV channel that the fight against the PKK would now become more determined. He said 2,000 PKK militants had been killed since the conflict resumed in July.

Uncertainty arising from the conflict, coinciding with a campaign against Islamic State militants based in Syria, has unnerved investors, with the lira dropping to record lows against the dollar.

The unrest has raised questions over how security can be guaranteed for the November 1st vote. But Mr Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade and now seeks a parliamentary mandate to extend his executive powers, said the election would go ahead.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, accused by the government of being bound to the PKK, called for a renewed ceasefire and an extraordinary parliamentary meeting. Its leader Selahattin Demirtas cut short a European visit, saying there could be no justification for killing.

“We will not surrender to war policies which only deem death proper for the people’s poor children and splatter blood on the mothers’ dreams of peace,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to the Daglica attack and conflict in the southeastern town of Cizre.

Local media reports said a lieutenant colonel in command of the Daglica battalion was among those killed.

“Two of our armoured vehicles suffered heavy damage after the detonation of hand-made explosives on the road. As a result of the blast, there were martyrs and wounded among our heroic armed comrades,” the military said in a statement.

The military said two F-16 and two F-14 jets struck 13 PKK targets and operations were continuing “decisively” despite very poor weather after the attack, which occurred as security forces were clearing roadside bombs planted by the PKK.

The security source said that after the militants detonated explosives along the road, a clash broke out between the soldiers and fighters from the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and United States.

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu chaired an emergency meeting with military and intelligence chiefs and ministers on Sunday night in Ankara following the attack, cutting short a visit to the city of Konya.

“The pain of our security forces who were martyred in the treacherous attack by the separatist terrorist organisation sears our hearts,” Mr Erdogan said in a statement, adding he believed the Turkish people would unify and take a “decisive stance” against threats to national security.

After he spoke, some 200 people chanting pro-Erdogan slogans attacked the Hurriyet newspaper’s offices in Istanbul, accusing it of misquoting him and implying that the president was trying to gain political capital from the Daglica attack.

Protesters with sticks and stones smashed windows, according to the Dogan news agency, part of the same group as Hurriyet, which has attracted criticism from pro-government circles over its coverage of the conflict.

Before the latest clashes, officials had said more than 70 members of the security services and hundreds of PKK militants had been killed in the fighting since July.

The PKK launched its insurgency in 1984 with the aim of carving out a state in the mainly Kurdish southeast. It later moderated its goal to boosting Kurdish political rights.

– (Reuters)