The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) took action against PKK elements based in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq yesterday, the military said in a written statement. The Turkish General Staff said security forces carried out counterterrorism airstrikes at about 2:00 a.m. (23:00 GMT). PKK targets located on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq and Karacok Mountain in northeastern Syria were hit to prevent the terrorist group from sending terrorists, arms, ammunition, and explosives to Turkey, the statement said.
The Turkish military underlined that the airstrikes were conducted "within the scope of international law" and "with the aim of destroying the hotbeds of terrorism which target the unity, integrity and safety of our country and nation." Ankara has long warned the PKK to withdraw its forces from the area, asserting that it will not allow the terrorist group to form another base in northern Iraq. The airstrikes also targeted the peshmerga forces in the area, killing at least five and wounding several others.
The Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Peshmerga Ministry also released a written statement regarding the airstrikes. The peshmerga pointed to the PKK as those responsible for all the incidents in Sinjar. "We also announce that all the trouble is due to the PKK's presence in the area; their presence has brought headaches and trouble to the region's people and the Kurdistan pegion," read the KRG's statement.
A peshmerga official on Mount Sinjar, Brig. Smel Busli told Rudaw, the KRG's news agency, that "The PKK is the reason for what has happened in Shingal [Sinjar]," adding, "Turkey would not have sent fighter jets to the area had the PKK left Sinjar."
KRG President Masoud Barzani's senior assisstant, Hemin Hawrami, reacted to the incident via his official Twitter account. "The PKK must leave Sinjar," he said.
Counterterrorism operations will continue "resolutely" both inside and outside Turkey, the Turkish military statement stressed.
Abdullah Ağar, a veteran and a security expert, asserted that the Sinjar airstrikes carried political and military messages. "Turkey has established air dominance both in Syria and Iraq. It is significant that the military struck the PKK in Iraq," Ağar said, adding that the main reasons for the PKK crisis lay in Iraq.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian war, also reported the strikes in Karacok. According to the Observatory, the airstrikes killed 18 militants of the PKK's Syrian wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG). The Observatory had earlier said only three were killed.
Recently, Turkish authorities have repeatedly asserted that the PKK would be targeted by the Turkish military if it did not leave the Sinjar area. "We [Turkey] will use military options against the PKK in Sinjar. I'm not saying that we will only use military force if necessary, I'm saying that we will use military force without question," Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told Daily Sabah on his way to Brussels for NATO in late March.
Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak also said the Turkish military would take matters into its own hands if the KRG failed to drive the PKK out of Sinjar. Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın had his say on the matter in late 2016, stating that Sinjar had been cleared of Daesh terrorists thanks to the operation carried out by Barzani, but that the PKK is trying to gain power by creating an actual state in the town.
Dr. Bora Bayraktar of the international relations department at Istanbul Kültür University said the airstrikes showed that Ankara could not get what it expected from the KRG on the PKK issue. "Turkey does not want Sinjar to become a shelter or a place where the PKK can hide and stock its ammunition and weapons like the Qandil Mountains," Bayraktar said, adding that everybody should wait and see whether it was a one-time offensive or if the Turkish military will continue to target the PKK in Sinjar this summer.
When asked about whether the Sinjar airstrikes would be followed by further airstrikes or a ground offensive, Ağar contended that Turkey's heavy military buildup at the Iraqi border will have either active or passive repercussions on the ground.
The PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and EU, resumed its armed campaign against Turkey in July 2015, and has since been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1,200 security personnel and civilians, including women and children.