The Turkish military has intensified its presence in northern Iraq and is reportedly completing its last preparations for a possible military offensive on the Qandil Mountains to eradicate the PKK terrorist organization's headquarters.
The army has already pushed about 25 kilometers into northern Iraq toward Mount Qandil as it took control of the Bradost region and entered the Barazgir valley, which is considered a gateway to Qandil, as part of the operation which reportedly began early March.
Yesterday, Turkish military special forces, who participated in Operation Olive Branch against PKK-affiliated groups in northern Syria's Afrin, reportedly relocated to Qandil to join the possible offensive.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said Monday that Turkey reserves the right to launch an operation where a threat is posed, and a military operation on Qandil was possible. "Both terrorists and all the resources of terrorism are the targets for Turkey," Bozdağ told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Ankara.
The Turkish military recently set up bases for tanks and helicopters in the region. It is also establishing another base for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and armed drones. The domestically-produced UAVs have been effectively used against the terrorist group since 2015 in Turkey and in cross-border operations.
Turkey has previously carried out several cross-border operations in Iraq against PKK threats. While most of them were ephemeral, the first extensive operation was carried out in May 1983, when 5,000 Turkish soldiers crossed the Iraqi border and advanced 5 kilometers. After a land operation on the Qandil Mountains, they retreated.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that Turkey is determined to completely eradicate terrorists and signaled a possible operation on Iraq's Sinjar, which is used as a base by PKK terrorists.
"We will clear Sinjar as we did Afrin and Jarablus," he said in an election meeting in northern Zonguldak province.
The operation is being commanded by İsmain Metin Temel, who was also commanded Operation Olive Branch. Temel's name has also been recently mentioned by presidential candidates during their campaigns.
Muharrem İnce, the Republican People's Party's (CHP) candidate criticized Temel, accusing him of applauding Erdoğan when he was criticizing İnce at a meeting. He said it was contradictory to his objectivity as a military officer. The main opposition is critical of the possible offensive in northern Iraq. CHP Group Vice Chairman Özgür Özel criticized the timing of a possible Qandil operation, saying that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is exploiting the issue to boost its votes in the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June 24.
The Great Union Party (BBP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), on the other hand, expressed their support for any possible operations on Qandil.
While BBP leader Mustafa Destici said that he wishes the operation will be completed before the June 24 elections, MHP Deputy Chairman Mustafa Kalaycı said the war against terrorism will continue until all terrorists from Afrin to Qandil were eradicated.
Mount Qandil became the PKK's main headquarters in the ‘90s after it used the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as training grounds for many years.
Formed in 1978, the PKK terrorist group has been fighting the Turkish government for an independent state. Its terror campaign has caused the deaths of more than 40,000 people. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union.
The PKK resumed its decades-old campaign in July 2015 after a three-year cease-fire collapsed. Since then more than 1,200 people, including security personnel and civilians, have lost their lives in PKK attacks.