Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq killed 13 Turkish civilians as military operations against the group began last week, Turkey’s military chief said.
Turkish forces completed a military operation in the area with 48 Kurdish fighters and three Turkish soldiers killed during three days of clashes, according to Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar.
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In a news conference on Sunday, Akar said those from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who were killed included three senior members of the armed group, adding two fighters were captured alive. Three Turkish soldiers were also wounded in the operation.
Turkey on Wednesday launched the mission dubbed Claw-Eagle 2 against PKK fighters holed up in the northern Iraqi region of Gara.
Akar said Turkish civilians recently abducted by the PKK were found dead in one of the group’s hideouts, which was captured by Turkish troops during the offensive.
“In a search of a cave taken under control, the bodies of 13 of our abducted citizens were found. In a first inspection it was determined that 12 of our innocent and unarmed citizens were shot in the head and martyred and one shot in the shoulder and martyred,” Akar said.
“According to initial information given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred at the start of the operation by the terrorist responsible for the cave,” he said at the operation’s control centre near the Iraq border, which he was visiting with military officials.
In 2017, Turkey’s foreign ministry said Ankara was working to bring back citizens kidnapped by the PKK, after Turkish media reported two Turkish intelligence officers had been captured in Iraq.
A statement on a PKK website said some prisoners it was holding – including Turkish intelligence, police and military personnel – died during clashes in the area. The group denied it had ever hurt prisoners.
The Kurdish armed group, listed as a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey and much of the international community, has for decades used Iraq’s mountainous areas as a springboard for its rebellion against the Turkish state.
Turkey’s army regularly conducts cross-border operations and air raids on PKK bases in northern Iraq. Ankara first launched the Claw-Eagle offensive in June 2020.
Turkish officials vowed to continue the fight against the PKK, and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin accused other countries of failing to speak out against the rebels. He said the 13 abducted people had been civilians.
“[The PKK] attacks Turkish and Iraqi security forces and civilians. It continues its terrorist attacks in northern Syria. The world is silent. This silence is a shameful act of complicity. But we will not remain silent,” he wrote on Twitter.
Akar said Turkey initiated the latest mission through its right to self-defence to prevent the PKK’s efforts to re-establish positions on the Iraqi side of the border.
“The operation has been completed. Our land and air elements returned to their bases and barracks safely,” he said.
During the campaign, more than 50 PKK targets – including ammunition depots, caves and bases in Gara – were destroyed, according to the defence minister.
Last month, Akar visited Iraq’s capital Baghdad and northern Iraq, where he said Turkey intended to eliminate PKK attacks in the region to ensure border security and regional peace.
PKK attacks are estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people since first launched in 1984.
In the last two years Turkey’s fight against the PKK has increasingly focused on northern Iraq, where the group has its stronghold in the Qandil mountains on the Iranian border.