Turkey steps up offensive in Iraq after Kurdish raids

Turkish soldiers in civilian outfits board on a plane at a military base in Van, eastern Turkey. Photo: 20 October 2011 Commandos and special paramilitary forces are taking part in the offensive, the military says

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A major Turkish military offensive is continuing in northern Iraq, following a deadly attack by Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

Ankara said 22 battalions, or about 10,000 soldiers, were taking part in the operation in northern Iraq and also south-eastern Turkey.

The troops - including commandos and paramilitary forces - are being backed by war planes and helicopters.

On Tuesday, Kurdish PKK rebels killed 24 soldiers near the Iraqi border.

The attacks in Hakkari province are thought to have inflicted the biggest loss on Turkish forces since 1993 and President Abdullah Gul has vowed to avenge them.

In recent months, violence between the army and Kurdish rebels from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) has mounted.

PKK guerrillas are seeking greater autonomy in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated south-east.

Rising Violence

  • 19 Oct: At least 26 soldiers killed in attacks on police and army posts in Hakkari province, triggering military incursion into northern Iraq
  • 18 Oct: Five soldiers and three civilians killed in roadside bomb in Bitlis
  • 17 Aug: Nine Turkish troops killed and 14 injured in attack in Cukurca, Hakkari province - sparking series of retaliatory air strikes that Turkish officials say kill up to 160 rebels
  • 14 July: 13 soldiers die in rebel ambush in south-eastern Turkey; seven rebels also die
  • 12 June: Parliamentary elections: Turkish Kurd nationalists do well but success sours as one deputy stripped of seat over terrorism charge, and others delayed from taking up seats
  • 4 May: PKK attack PM Erdogan's election bus, killing policeman
  • Early May 2011: Army ambushes kill seven PKK fighters in south-eastern Tunceli, then 12 more just over the Iraq border; no military casualties

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since 1984.

Nato support

In a statement on Thursday, the Turkish military said that 22 battalions were involved in the operation.

It said the ground troops were being reinforced by F-16 and F-4 jets and Cobra helicopter gunships.

The operation was focusing on five separate areas, the statement added, without giving details how many troops were deployed in Turkey and Iraq.

At a televised news conference, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "The military is determinedly carrying out this [operation], both from the air and the ground."

Unconfirmed reports say that 21 Kurdish militants have been killed since the Turkish operation was launched on Wednesday.

The Kurdish rebel raids - thought to be at least two simultaneous ambushes - took place in Cukurca and the district of Yuksekova.

Ankara said that 24 soldiers were killed and another 18 injured.

Map

Turkey's army is a conscript one and many families will have sent sons to serve.

The Turkish parliament has recently renewed the law that gives Turkish forces carte blanche to pursue rebels over the border.

A spokesman for the PKK, Dostdar Hamo, on Wednesday confirmed that clashes had been taking place in two areas, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The US and Nato have issued statements in support of the Turkish government.

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