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Turkish death toll widens in PKK ambush

September 7, 2015

Overnight airstrikes launched by the Turkish military have struck Kurdish insurgents. Attacks follow Sunday's ambush that killed dozens of Turkish soldiers.

Türkei PKK Anschlag in der Hakkari Region
Image: picture alliance/AA/M. Varol

The Turkish military confirmed that 16 soldiers had been killed Monday as operations continued, with helicopters dropping special forces in a mountainous area near the Iraqi frontier, while surveillance drones sought out targets for airstrikes.

"Sixteen of our comrades in arms were martyred" in Sunday's attack on two armored military vehicles in the southeastern Hakkari region, the army said in a statement, adding that six other soldiers were wounded in those attacks.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which sometimes exaggerates the casualties, claimed 31 Turkish soldiers had been killed in a combination of bombing and shooting attacks.

But a security source told the Reuters news agency that 16 soldiers had been killed, which still would be the highest military death toll in a single attack for years.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported that 400 kilograms (880 lbs.) of explosives were used in a roadside bomb and that around 150 PKK fighters had engaged in a seven-hour firefight with soldiers.

Turkish leaders convene crisis meeting

In a sign of the gravity of the attacks, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu broke off a Sunday trip to central Turkey to watch a national football game and summoned an emergency midnight security meeting in Ankara.

In retaliation, wo Turkish F-4 and two F-16 jets were deployed to carry out strikes in a "heavy air campaign" against 13 targets controlled by the militants, the military said.

Many "terrorists" had been killed in the retaliatory airstrikes, the official Anatolia news agency said, without giving a precise toll.

The PKK - designated a terrorist group by the European Union, the United States and Turkey - has been staging daily attacks against the armed forces, as the military presses a relentless operation against the group in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, which began in late July.

Violence destabilizing country

Türkei Recep Tayyip Erdogan Trauerfeier Ahmet Camur
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks next to the flag-draped coffin of a slain police officer. He has vowed to intensify the war with the PKK.Image: Reuters/Y. Bulbul/Presidential Palace Press Office

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that he strongly condemned "the atrocious attack that caused the martyrdom and injuries of our soldiers."

As news of the attack broke overnight, nationalist Turks took to the streets in a show of support for the army, blocking a road between Antalya and Mersin in the south and scuffling with police in Gaziantep, television reports said.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), accused by the government of being linked to the PKK, called for a renewed ceasefire and an extraordinary parliamentary meeting.

HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas cut short a visit to Germany to fly back to Turkey. He also took to Twitter to condemn killings on all sides.

"We will not surrender to war policies, which only deem death proper for the people's poor children and splatter blood on the mothers' dreams of peace," he wrote on Twitter, referring to the Daglica attack and conflict in the southeastern town of Cizre.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of establishing an independent state for Turkey's Kurdish minority. In recent years, it has retooled its demands, pushing for greater autonomy as well as and language and cultural rights for Turkey's ethnic Kurds.

The unrest has raised questions over how security can be guaranteed for general elections slated for November 1. But Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for over a decade and now seeks a parliamentary mandate to extend his executive powers, said the vote would go ahead regardless.

jar/jil (AFP, Reuters)