Turkey's policy of not allowing terrorist groups to survive and thrive at home and abroad saw a new development on Iraqi soil on Tuesday as Turkish jets hit PKK targets in northern Iraq's Sinjar region. Having previously issued stern warnings to the terror group to withdraw from the region, Ankara knuckled down to sweep out any PKK elements in Sinjar, in order to prevent the terrorist group from establishing "a second Qandil." "We are obliged to take measures. We must take steps. We have shared this with the U.S. and Russia and we are sharing it with Iraq as well," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an interview at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on the same day.
Around 70 PKK terrorists and militants from its Syrian offshoot the People's Protection Units (YPG) have reportedly been killed in Iraq's Sinjar and northern Syria in Turkish anti-terror operations, the Turkish military confirmed.
The president, however, added that it was a "source of sadness for us" that five or six peshmerga members were killed in the attack, despite early warnings.
"The Turkish military's operation is by no means against peshmerga forces," Erdoğan said.
Ankara considers the YPG, which supposedly fights Daesh in Syria and Iraq with the backing of the U.S. and allies, a terrorist group affiliated with the PKK. The U.S.'s support for the YPG has soured relations between Ankara and Washington.
The president in the interview said there are approximately 2,000 PKK members present in Iraq's Sinjar and "we cannot allow it to become a second Qandil," and Ankara needs to "drain the swamp."
According to Turkish General Staff sources, PKK targets located on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq and Mount Karacok in northeastern Syria were hit to prevent the terrorist group from sending terrorists, arms, ammunition, and explosives to Turkey.Speaking to Daily Sabah on Tuesday, Abdullah Ağar, an army veteran and 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.
Even though it has been speculated that Ankara did not inform the U.S.-led coalition prior to the strikes, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hüseyin Müftüoğlu said Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar held phone calls with his U.S. and Russian counterparts. Also, the U.S.-led coalition was informed and the U.S. and Russia were notified through diplomatic channels, Müftoğlu said.
The Assad regime has condemned a Turkish attack on YPG fighters in northern Syria. The Foreign Ministry said yesterday that the airstrikes the day before violated international law and infringed on Syrian sovereignty. It called on the U.N. to condemn the attack.
In the meantime, Turkish Air Forces killed 12 PKK terrorists in two separate operations in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey on Wednesday, according to Turkish military sources.
In a statement, Turkish General Staff said six PKK terrorists were killed in Iraq's Zap region during an air operation on Wednesday.Six others were killed in a separate air operation in southeastern Hakkari province's Çukurca district, an official in condition of anonymity said.
Despite the previous U.S. administration's insistence on recognizing no direct links between the PKK and the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had confirmed the link between YPG/PYD and the PKK while testifying before a Senate panel at the U.S. Congress in April 2016.
Admitting the link between the PKK and PYD, Carter acknowledged that the PKK is a designated terror group by the U.S., Turkey and the EU, but denied Ankara was upset due to the U.S.'s air and equipment support to the militant group's offshoot in Syria.
Also, a Tactical Action Report (TAR) prepared by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), confirmed the affiliation between the PKK and the PYD/YPG terror groups.
Turkish authorities labeled the PYD as the KCK's Syrian branch in 2009.
Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK), or the Kurdish Communities Union is a supreme body that supervises the associated organizations created by Abdullah Öcalan while he was looking for new ways to increase his outreach across the region.PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had stated in an interview with Iraqi television Zelal in 2013, "I founded the PYD as I did the PJAK [the PKK's Iranian arm]. We did not use the word 'Kurdistan' in the party's title because we did not want to provoke the Syrian regime. The PYD is connected to the PKK, and acts upon on the PKK's orders."
Syrian Kurds had a presence in the PKK's ranks as well, and they are generally referred to as "undocumented" by the Turkish authorities, since the Syrian regime didn't recognize them as Syrian citizens. Research carried out in 2007 by James Brandon of the Jamestown Foundation suggests that 20 percent of PKK militants were Syrian nationals.
Meanwhile, two military outposts in the southern Turkish province of Hatay were hit by mortar fire from the regime and the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Unit (YPG) held areas in northwestern Syria Wednesday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said in a statement. The first attack was carried out around 9 a.m. local time from the YPG-held area, and targeted a military outpost in the Hassa district. No injuries resulted from the attack, the statement said, however considerable material damage took place in the outpost.The second mortar fire came from regime-held territory and landed near a military outpost in the Yayladağı district. No injuries or damages occurred from the attack, the statement said.
The statement added that Turkish units stationed in the area retaliated in kind to both attacks.Official PKK websites and magazines also acknowledge the establishment of the PYD in detail. For example, an undated article by Zaxo Şiyar on the PKK's women's branch, the Kurdistan Women's Freedom Party's (PAJK) website, says that the PKK leadership decided to establish individual parties separately in every region of Kurdistan. The article, which also appeared on the PKK's Arabic website, depicts the terror group's psychology after its forced exit from Syria and subsequent arrest of Öcalan.
Salih Muslim, the current chairman of the PYD, has also implicitly accepted that there were hundreds of PKK militants in the ranks of the YPG.
Even though the U.S. administration has not stopped aiding the PKK's Syrian wing the YPG, Ankara seems adamant on eradicating the YPG threat in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield on Aug. 24, 2016, declaring that it was exercising its right to self-defense codified under U.N. Charter Article 51.
A National Security Council press release stated that the operation's objectives were to maintain border security and drive Daesh terrorists away from the Turkish-Syrian border.The operation, which began last summer, relied heavily on Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkish artillery and air support.Ankara declared the operation successfully concluded in late March, following the liberation of Jarablus, Dabiq and al-Bab from Daesh and asserted that YPG-held Afrin and Manbij would be targeted next.
It has been also reported that the Turkish military was building up its presence at the Turkish border near YPG-held Afrin.
Meanwhile, the Turkish military shelled YPG positions around Afrin, reports on social media said. The reports contended that the military shelled the area after YPG terrorists were seen digging ditches and trenches to use as positions.