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Turkey Sends Ground Forces into Iraq Against PKK, Amid More Police Deaths

Turkish ground troops today crossed the border into Iraq for a "short-term" offensive against Kurdistan Workers Party militants, as at least 16 police officers were killed inside Turkey.
September 8, 2015, 12:30pm
Imagen vía Depo Photos/EPA

Turkish ground forces today crossed the border into Iraq for a "short-term" offensive against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, according to the Associated Press.

A government official told the AP that the troops moved into Iraq in "hot pursuit" of PKK fighters accused of involvement in a bomb attack that killed 16 Turkish soldiers on Sunday. The anonymous official added that "this is a short-term measure intended to prevent the terrorists' escape."

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Military operations involving ground troops were continuing in a forested area right on the border, other security sources told Reuters, but did not confirm the media reports that special forces had crossed into Iraq in the so-called "hot pursuit" manoeuvre — something they have done during past periods of intense conflict.

Also on Tuesday, four Turkish police officers were wounded in a rocket-propelled grenade strike by PKK fighters in the southeastern town of Cizre on Tuesday, a security source told Reuters. The source said initial reports that three officers were killed in the attack proved incorrect.

Earlier in the day, a bomb attack on a minibus killed 13 police officers in a Turkish province bordering Armenia and Iran, a government official said, the edge of a region beset by fighting between Kurdish militants and the Turkish state.

Related: Writers Demand Release of VICE News Journalist Jailed in Turkey

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing in the province of Igdir, but it comes after months of attacks by PKK militants on soldiers and police officers in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast.

More than 40 Turkish warplanes hit PKK targets overnight in northern Iraq, where the group has bases, in response to the killing on Sunday of 16 soldiers near the Iraqi border, the deadliest attack since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July.

Dozens of F-16 and F-4 jets took part in the air operation in northern Iraq, which began around 10pm local time (5pm ET) on Monday and continued for six hours. They targeted PKK bases in Qandil, Basyan Avashin, and Zap, and hit weapons and food stores as well as the militants' machinegun positions.

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Reacting to Sunday's attacks, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: "These terrorists must be wiped out from the mountains; whatever happens they must be wiped out…If someone wants to push Turkey into a ring of fire, let it be known that the greatest strength is our unity around the security of our nation."

President Tayyip Erdogan said the PKK had suffered "serious damage" inside and outside Turkey and was now on the back foot.

"The recent developments are a result of the ensuing panic. The losses inflicted on the organisation by (Turkish military) operations can be expressed in the thousands," he said in a speech to academics at his palace in Ankara.

The renewed conflict, weeks before polls the ruling AK Party hopes will restore its majority, has shattered a peace process launched by Erdogan in 2012 in an attempt to end an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people over three decades.

It has also complicated Turkey's role in the US-led fight against Islamic State. A Kurdish militia allied with the PKK has been battling Islamic State in northern Syria, backed by US air strikes. But Turkey fears territorial gains by Syria's Kurds will fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurdish population.

Related: Turkey Bombs Kurdish Targets in Retaliation for PKK Attack Killing 15 Soldiers

The Igdir attack came as police travelled in a minibus to a border gate linking Turkey to the autonomous Nakhchivan enclave, sandwiched between Armenia and Iran and controlled by Azerbaijan, the Dogan news agency reported.

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Erdogan said on Sunday that some 2,000 PKK militants had been killed since the conflict resumed in July. Around 100 members of Turkish security forces have been killed, based on information from government officials and security sources.

The PKK attacks have triggered nationalist anger against Kurds. The Istanbul branch of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said on Twitter that 126 of the party's buildings around the country were attacked on Monday.

Crowds near the Mediterranean city of Mersin closed a highway and attacked buses travelling to largely Kurdish regions, breaking windows with rocks, newspapers reported.

About 2,000 people overran a state construction project in Erzurum province, angry with a group of ethnic Kurdish builders suspected of sympathising with the PKK, the leftwing daily BirGun said. CNN Turk news channel said Kurdish seasonal farm labourers in the town of Beypazari near the capital Ankara barely escaped a group that attempted to lynch them.

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