DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish security forces killed at least 15 Kurdish rebels in a raid near the country’s border with Iraq after tracking them with drones and attacking them with helicopters and on the ground, officials said on Wednesday.
The drones spotted a group of Kurdish fighters who blocked roads on Monday in Hakkari province, then pinpointed them for an attack when the Kurdish fighters returned to the same area on Tuesday evening, the security officials said.
Three Turkish soldiers were injured in clashes that ensued, they said.
The region is the theatre of a 28-year-old conflict between Turkish forces and fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which in various incarnations has waged a campaign for autonomy in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey.
Turkey has cemented ties with the Kurdish leadership of Iraq’s semi-autonomous north, where the PKK has a military presence, through trade and investment, but remains wary that the example of Kurdish self-rule in Iraq and deepening chaos in neighbouring Syria could inflame its own Kurdish conflict.
Syrian Kurdish opposition figures say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have quit areas of Hassaka and Aleppo provinces, which border Turkey, leaving them under the control of the PKK-linked Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The head of the Syrian National Council - which aspires to political leadership of the revolt against Assad and much of whose leadership is in Turkey - said Assad’s troops had lost control of some parts of those regions, but that the Syrian opposition did not endorse any Kurdish separatist project.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by the TV 24 channel on Wednesday as saying a PKK-linked Kurdish presence could give Turkey cause to intervene militarily in Syria, as it has done repeatedly in northern Iraq since that region slipped from Baghdad’s grip following the 1991 Gulf War.
“The terrorist PKK organisation’s cooperation with the PYD is something we cannot look upon favourably,” it quoted him as saying. “If a formation that’s going to be a problem, if there is a terror operation, (if) an irritant, emerges, then intervening there would be our most natural right.”
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Reporting by Seymus Cakan; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Louise Ireland and Alessandra Rizzo