Latest deadly skirmish highlights the deteriorating security situation in the Kurdish region.
Turkey summoned the United States ambassador to Ankara on Monday to convey “in the strongest terms” its reaction to a statement on the killing of 13 kidnapped Turks in Iraq, which President Tayyip Erdogan called “a farce”.
Turkey said on Sunday fighters from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) executed the captives, including Turkish military and police personnel, amid a military operation in northern Iraq where the group was holding them.
The US said it stood by fellow NATO member Turkey and that it condemned the killings if it was confirmed that responsibility lay with the PKK.
Ankara, already angered by Washington’s partnership with Kurdish fighters in neighbouring Syria, was infuriated by the conditionality of the US statement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the United States of supporting “terrorists”.
“The statement made by the United States is a farce,” Erdogan said on Monday. “You said you did not support terrorists, when in fact you are on their side and behind them,” Erdogan said in televised remarks criticising the US State Department statement, which failed to accept Ankara’s account of the incident.
Turkey this month launched a military operation against PKK bases in northern Iraq that Erdogan said on Monday was designed in part to free the 13 hostages.
At least 48 members of the Kurdish armed group were also killed during the operation, according to Turkey’s defence minister.
The PKK, dubbed a “terrorist” group by the US and Turkey’s other Western allies, has been waging an armed rebellion against the Turkish state since 1984 that is believed to have left tens of thousands dead.
Ankara angered by US support to YPG
Turkey has been angered by the US support to Kurdish rebels in Syria known as People’s Protection Units or YPG, which Ankara says is an offshoot of the PKK.
The US State Department on Sunday said it “deplores the death of Turkish citizens” but was waiting for further confirmation that Ankara’s account of the 13 men’s death was true.
The PKK said the 13 died when Turkish forces bombed the cave where the men were being kept.
“If reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organisation, are confirmed, we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” the State Department said in a statement.
But Erdogan demanded that his NATO allies need to pick sides.
“After this, there are two options. Either act with Turkey with no ifs or buts, without questioning, or they will be a partner to every murder and bloodshed,” he said.
“The terrorist organisation on our doorstep, on our borders, is killing innocents.”
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu reporting from Istanbul said that according to its statement, the US doesn’t seem convinced by the Turkish defence ministry and other official statements that the Turkish citizens were killed with PKK bullets, which is why Erdogan “lashed out”.
“Turkey has been criticising the US for providing weapons and arms for the YPG, which is at the same time PKK for Turkey, because Turkey believes those weapons provided by the international coalition [to the PKK] in the fight against ISIL in Syria will one day be diverted to Turkey,” Koseoglu said.
“That’s what officials have been claiming for the past two days … the PKK is using those weapons on Turkey’s citizens. That’s why Turkey is calling the West to pick a side – either with Turkey or the PKK.”
Other countries ‘silent’
Referring to the developments, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “Countries that claim to be combating terrorism are either silent on this massacre by the PKK or are trying to slur over it with ifs and buts.”
He promised to avenge the victims of the incident while speaking at the opening of a new building for the Ethiopian embassy in the capital Ankara.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin on Sunday had also accused other countries of failing to speak out against the rebels.
“[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.
Turkey’s army regularly conducts cross-border operations and air raids on PKK bases in northern Iraq. Ankara on Wednesday launched the mission dubbed Claw-Eagle 2 against PKK fighters holed up in the northern Iraqi region of Gara.
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.