Turkey has continued with its military offensive against Kurdish fighters on its border and in northern Iraq for a third consecutive day in response to a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attack that killed 24 Turkish soldiers.
Wednesday’s attack claimed the deadliest one-day toll against the Turkish military since the 1990s.
Turkey’s conflict with the PKK armed group has killed tens of thousands of people since the seperatists took up arms to fight for autonomy in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast in 1984.
The Turkish military said its air and ground offensives were mostly concentrated within Turkey, while operations were also under way “in a few areas” in northern Iraq.
Turkish military officials said 49 Kurdish fighters have been killed in the operations since Thursday.
The military has not revealed the number of soldiers that have crossed into Iraq. But the Haber Turk newspaper reported on Saturday that 1,500 elite troops were involved in the ground operation against rebel hideouts in northern Iraq.
The Turkish troops had penetrated five kilometers into Iraqi territory, Haber Turk said, while military helicopters were ferrying elite troops in and out of other areas for “spot operations” against PKK fighters.
The paper said the offensive was targeting seven suspected PKK bases along the border, where some 2,000 rebels are believed to be hiding.
Turkish soldiers were being backed by F-16 and F-4 warplanes, Super Cobra helicopter gunships and surveillance drones, the report said.
The current offensive was the largest assault on the fighters in more than three years.
Ankara has sought the co-operation of Iran and Iraqi Kurds in battling the PKK fighters.
The Turkish languague Hurriyet newspaper reported on Saturday that Iraqi Kurdish security forces, the Peshmerga, were helping Turkish troops by providing intelligence.
Iraqi leaders have condemned the rebel attack and promised to stop the PKK from using Iraqi territory for future attacks against Turkey.
The Iraqi foreign ministry said both Baghdad and the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq “are committed to securing the borders.”