An extensive military operation was launched against the camps of the PKK terrorist organization in northern Iraq to clear militants from the region, whose presence in the area has been posing a national security threat to Ankara for decades with frequent attacks in southeastern Turkey.
The Ministry of National Defense announced in a statement Tuesday that Operation Claw was launched at 8 p.m. on Monday on PKK camps in the Hakurk region with commando brigades and fire support from helicopters, following artillery and airstrikes targeting PKK shelters and ammunition depots.
After the bombardment, commando brigades, backed by T-129 ATAK helicopters and armed and unarmed drones, were deployed to the area.
The operation aims to destroy shelters and caves used by the terrorist group, the statement said.
A statement later in the day by the Defense Ministry confirmed nine PKK terrorists had been neutralized in the operation.
Turkish authorities often use the word "neutralized" in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured. It added that airstrikes targeting the nearby Zap and Qandil regions hit PKK's gun positions, shelters and ammunition depots.
Security sources told Anadolu Agency (AA) that Operation Claw was launched after extensive planning and surveillance on the PKK terrorists' locations in the region.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler and army, air force and navy commanders directed the operation throughout the night at the Command and Operation Center at the Turkish General Staff headquarters in Ankara.
In a tweet released on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wished for success to soldiers participating in the operation.
Turkey had previously warned the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and Iraqi government numerous times on eliminating the PKK's presence to maintain Turkey's border security. Despite top officials from both governments often expressing their discomfort with PKK camps and activities, saying that they won't allow militants to attack Turkey from their soil, no serious action was taken in this regard.
With no concrete results from the efforts of Iraq and the KRG, Turkey has been paddling its own canoe in recent years and taking a hard line against the PKK presence in northern Iraq. Last year, security forces crossed 30 kilometers into northern Iraq and nearly 200 terrorists have been killed in months of operations against PKK targets.
Hakurk region is among the main bases of the PKK terrorists used to infiltrate Turkey or attack Turkish border outposts. The area is located some 30 to 40 kilometers south of Derecik district of southeastern Hakkari province bordering Iraq, and currently serves as the main grouping base for terrorists between their headquarters in Qandil Mountains near the border with Iran and Turkey.
The area also facilitates their crossing between Qandil and Iraq's Salahaddin province bordering Syria, where PKK's Syrian offshoot People's Protection Units (YPG) controls the northeastern one-third of the country.
The Qandil mountains, located roughly 40 kilometers southeast of the Turkish border in Iraq's Irbil province, are being used as a headquarters by the PKK and its Iranian affiliate, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), although the area is under de jure control of the KRG. The area has frequently been hit by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the last decade, yet a ground operation had not been launched in recent years. Qandil became the PKK's main headquarters in the 1990s after it had used the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon as training grounds for many years.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including many women and children.
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