Turkey strikes PKK in Syria, Iraq for second day, responds to US criticism
ANKARA / WASHINGTON
Turkey continued its strikes on outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria for a second day on April 26, while also responding to criticism from the United States.
The Turkish Armed Forces said it hit PKK targets in the northern Iraqi region of Zap on April 26, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Six PKK militants, who were allegedly preparing an attack, were “neutralized” in the operation, according to the Turkish Armed Forces statement. Three shelters used by PKK militants were destroyed by the air strikes.
The military also stated late on April 26 that it “neutralized” another two militants in a separate air strike in the Zap region and destroyed a number of gun emplacements and sanctuaries.
Separately, mortar fire from an area assessed to be under the control of Syrian forces hit a military outpost in the southern province of Hatay, the Turkish army said, adding that it retaliated after the attack.
In a statement, the army said a separate cross-border mortar attack had been carried out on a different military outpost, also in Hatay, by members of the Kurdish militant YPG earlier on April 26.
Turkey carried out a number of air strikes against PKK targets in Sinjar, Iraq and Karaçok, Syria a day earlier, announcing that some 70 militants were killed.
In northeast Syria, strikes targeted the Kurdish YPG, which Ankara says is a terrorist group for its links to the PKK.
Turkish warplanes continued to strike PKK targets in northern Iraq on April 26, killing six militants, the military said in a statement, as part of a widening campaign against the group.
The statement said the air strikes targeted the Zap region, the Turkish name for a river which flows across the Turkish-Iraqi border and is known as Zab in Iraq.
The PKK established a minor presence in Sinjar, bordering Syria, after coming to the aid of its Yazidi population when ISIL militants overran the area in the summer of 2014 and killed and captured thousands of members of the minority faith when Peshmerga under the direction of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani deserted the Yazidi population.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on April 26 that Ankara informed anti-ISIL coalition members and Russia two hours before Turkish planes bombed the PKK.
“Two hours before this operation, we shared information with the U.S. and Russia that we would undertake an operation” in the region, and warned the U.S. to withdraw its soldiers in the region to 20-30 kilometers away, Çavuşoğlu told reporters in Uzbekistan on April 26. Ankara told Washington in the “last few weeks” that it would undertake military operations he said but did not give further detail.
“Turkey acts transparently on all issues. We have no secret agenda... We respect Syria and Iraq’s territorial integrity,” he said. Ankara had “a legitimate right with these interventions” because of the threats to Turkey from these areas and urged its allies to support the efforts, he said. “There are terrorists that enter Turkey via different paths.”
Çavuşoğlu and his U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson held a phone conversation on late April 25 after Washington angrily accused Ankara of lackluster coordination.
US ‘deeply concerned’ by strikes
But the U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned” the strikes were conducted “without proper coordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition” against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“We have expressed those concerns with the government of Turkey directly,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in a conference call. “These air strikes were not approved by the coalition and led to the unfortunate loss of life of our partner forces.”
Toner said the strikes hurt the coalition’s efforts to go after the militants.
“We recognize their concerns about the PKK, but these kinds of actions frankly harm the coalition’s efforts to go after ISIL and frankly harm our partners on the ground who are conducting that fight,” he added.
A U.S. military officer accompanied the YPG commanders on a tour of the sites hit near Syria’s frontier with Turkey after the attack, a Reuters witness said, demonstrating the close partnership.
In a written statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hüseyin Müftüoğlu elaborated more on the diplomatic and military communication conducted before the operation.
In the framework of the military arrangements, the military authorities of the U.S. and Russian military attachés were informed in Ankara, said the spokesperson. Turkish Chief of General Staff Org. Hulusi Akar also had separate phone conversations with his U.S. and Russian counterparts, along with diplomatic notifications made to the embassies of the countries in Ankara, he said, adding that Turkey also informed an anti-ISIL operation center in Qatar.
Erdoğan: Turkey to continue operations
Turkey will not let Sinjar become a PKK base and will continue military operations there and in northern Syria “until the last terrorist is eliminated,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Reuters in an interview on April 25.
Erdoğan said it was a “source of sadness for us” that five or six Peshmerga forces were killed in the attack despite the warnings. In northern Iraq, the air strikes killed six peshmerga fighters from the KRG, usually allied with Ankara, in an apparent accident.
“The Turkish military’s operation is absolutely not against Peshmerga forces,” he added. Erdoğan also said there were approximately 2,000 PKK members in Iraq’s Sinjar, which he said Turkey “cannot allow to become” a PKK base. Ankara needs to “drain the swamp,” he added.