Turkish jets raid northern Iraq, after Kurdish rebel attack troops near border

By Suzan Fraser, AP
Saturday, June 19, 2010

Turkish jets raid northern Iraq, clashes kill 23

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish warplanes launched air raids at suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq Saturday 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 said.

Two other soldiers were killed in a land mine explosion while chasing the rebels, the state-run Anatolia new agency reported, raising the overall death toll in Saturday’s violence to 23.

Special forces were immediately sent to reinforce the border area where the clashes occurred and Turkish warplanes bombed detected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq the military said, without providing any further details.

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 Friday 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 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 daylong 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 Saturday’s attack occurred at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Friday) on an outpost near the town of Semdinli — a mountainous region where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet. The military said eight soldiers were killed but the Anatolia later reported that one missing soldier was found dead, raising the number of troops killed in the attack to nine.

Private NTV television, citing unnamed military sources, said a large group of PKK rebels infiltrated the area from hideouts across the Iraqi border to attack the military unit.

Clashes in the region were continuing sporadically, NTV said.

The United States, 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 it recently purchased from Israel.

Armagan Kuloglu, a retired general and military analyst, said, however, there appeared to be a deficiency in the intelligence and that the advance of the rebels should have been detected.

Saturday’s 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 organization is eradicated.”

A nationalist opposition party, the Nationalist Action Party, called for a wide-ranging ground offensive in northern Iraq, including the establishment of a security zone along the border inside Iraqi territory and operations against PKK commanders believed to be based on Mount Qandil, which sits on the Iranian-Iraqi border.

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 this week’s incursion by elite commandos who crossed the border to hunt down a group of PKK rebels who escaped after a failed attack near the border town of Uludere.

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 Marxist group has been labeled a terrorist organization by the West for killing civilians in urban bombings and arson attacks and slaying government teachers, engineers and clergymen.

The 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 language is also barred in parliament and other official settings on the grounds that its use would divide the country along ethnic lines.

The conflict has killed as many as 40,000 people since 1984.

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