ISTANBUL – Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militants this week is one of its largest military operation in years, with 10,000 troops backed by warplanes pursuing rebels in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, the army said yesterday.
The offensive began only hours after the Kurdish Worker’s Party, or PKK, mounted deadly attacks against the Turkish military, killing 24 soldiers and wounding 18 early Wednesday in Hakkari Province.
In all, 22 battalions of elite commando and special-forces troops were operating against the insurgents in five locations, supported by surveillance drones, helicopters, and F-16 and F-4 jets, the army said, adding that at least three militants had been killed so far, and that explosives and other military equipment had been confiscated.
The Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq have expressed concerns about Turkish crossborder military incursions in the past, but both of them condemned the attacks by the PKK in strong terms and offered to help prevent the group from operating in northern Iraq, according to Turkish news outlets.
Turkey has demanded that the Iraqi Kurds support their efforts to eliminate militant bases around the Qandil Mountains, a rugged section of northern Iraq.
Nechirvan Barzani, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official, arrived in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, yesterday to discuss the situation with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Erdogan said he also invited Mesud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish regional administration in northern Iraq, to join talks on a plan for tackling the militants.
The prime minister said on Turkish television that the PKK’s violence was “not only aimed at Turkey but at the brotherhood between Turks and Kurds.’’
“We have to get over this and succeed together,’’ he said.
Funeral services for the soldiers killed in the attacks drew large crowds yesterday, and demonstrations shown on Turkish television showed thousands of people denouncing the PKK, which is classified by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union as a terrorist organization.