Turkish warplanes have struck more than 80 Kurdish targets in northern Iraq in response to an increase in attacks on Turkish army bases, the defence ministry said on Monday.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command condemned the cross-border raid as a “provocative action” and accused Turkish forces of hitting a refugee camp.
The operation, codenamed Operation Claw-Eagle, hit targets suspected to belong to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in several regions in Iraq’s north, including Sinjar, according to a tweet from Turkey’s military, which claimed 81 PKK targets were targeted, including shelters and caves.
“The Claw-Eagle Operation has started. Our planes are bringing the caves down on the terrorists’ heads,” the defence ministry said.
Turkey regularly targets PKK fighters, both in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based. There was no immediate statement from the PKK.
Along with the fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, and refueling aircraft also took part in the operation, the military said.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said the latest operation targeted multiple areas and was coordinated among several air force bases.
Koseoglu noted Turkey’s military has been striking the PKK inside northern Iraq since 1996, adding PKK fighters had been “harassing” military and police units along the Turkish border.
“Turkey’s armed forces hit separate targets simultaneously this time, the logistics lines run through this area. According to Turkey’s defence ministry, some of the strikes were called off at the last minute over concerns of civilian casualties,” she said.
Iraq’s military denounced the attacks.
“We deplore the penetration of Iraqi airspace by the Turkish planes which – at a depth of 193km from the Turkish border inside the Iraqi airspace – targeted a refugee camp near Makhmour and Sinjar,” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
A security source earlier told Reuters news agency the warplanes took off from various air bases in Turkey, notably in the southeastern cities of Diyarbakir and Malatya.
The defence ministry subsequently said the air operation targeted the PKK in its stronghold at Qandil, near the Iranian border, as well as the areas of Sinjar, Zap, Avasin-Basyan and Hakurk.
“The PKK and other terrorist elements are threatening the security of our people and borders with attacks increasing every day on the areas of our outposts and bases,” it said.
The PKK, designated as a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, focused in southeast Turkey.
While Turkish warplanes frequently target PKK targets in northern Iraq, Turkey has also warned in recent years of a potential ground offensive targeting PKK bases in the Qandil mountains.
Koseoglu noted the head of Turkish intelligence had visited Iraq only a couple of days ago.