Turkey defends airstrikes against Kurdish separatist group

Turkey defends airstrikes against Kurdish separatist group

Turkey on Sunday defended its airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, saying they were in response to terrorist attacks by the group and will continue until its command centers and depots are destroyed. 

"The PKK is using the war in Syria and the international fight against [ISIS] as a pretext to claim political and military space," said a statement from the Turkish Embassy in Washington. 

"Therefore, Turkey's operations will, if needed, continue until the PKK terror organizations' command centers, all locations where they plan [attacks] against Turkey and all depots used to store arms and ammunition to be used against Turkey are destroyed," it said. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The airstrikes come as the country steps up cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), beginning airstrikes and ground operations against the group in Syria and allowing the U.S. and other nations to conduct strikes from its airbases. 

The U.S., who is partnering with Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria against ISIS, tried to distance itself from the attacks, while expressing support for its NATO partner. 

U.S. Ambassador Brett McGurk, the U.S.'s deputy special presidential envoy to the coalition, tweeted a series of statements in support of Turkey but urged peace. 

"We have strongly condemned the #PKK’s terrorist attacks in #Turkey and we fully respect our ally Turkey’s right to self-defense," he tweeted on Saturday. "We also urge de-escalation and that both sides remain committed to the peaceful 'solution process' for a just and sustainable peace. 

"There is no connection between these airstrikes against PKK and recent understandings to intensify US-Turkey cooperation against #ISIL," he added, using an alternate acronym for the terror group. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday granted Turkey's request for consultations under Article 4 of the organization's founding Washington Treaty, which allows members to do so when their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

Turkey began the airstrikes after several attacks within its borders from ISIS, as well as the PKK, which has pushed for self-rule within Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. 

"Though acting with different motivations, [ISIS] and the PKK share similar tactics and goals," the statement said. 

On July 20, a Turkish national suspected of having ties to ISIS killed more than 30 and injured more than 100 in a suicide attack against young Kurdish organizers in southeastern Turkey, prompting protests against the government's perceived failure to protect them. 

Several violent clashes between the PKK and Turkish police took place afterwards, resulting in the deaths of three Turkish police officers, according to Turkey. The violence continued Sunday, with reports of a roadside bomb killing two Turkish soldiers. 

Turkey also defended its detention of hundreds within its borders.

"To date, 320 persons have been detained under the charge of being member of these terrorist organizations. Investigations pertaining to these individuals are underway," the statement said. 

Turkey said since June 7, 121 gun attacks, 15 abductions, 16 road raids, 59 cases of vehicle incinerations, 53 cases of attacks with explosives and 17 cases of extortion were carried out in Turkey by various terrorist groups. 

The country also continued to call for the establishment of safe zones and no-fly zones in Syria for civilians and refugees, which it has sought, but the U.S. has so far rejected, since it would be an escalation of U.S. military involvement and could bring it closer to a war with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The statement said such zones "should be viewed as a natural dimension" of the fight against ISIS. 

"When areas in northern Syria are cleared of the [ISIS] threat, safe zones will be formed naturally," it said.  

Ege Seckin, an analyst at IHS Country Risk, said Turkey's increased involvement was likely due to the recent nuclear deal struck between Iran and international nations, which Turkey fears would allow Iran to support the Syrian regime more effectively. 

"Turkey is also seeking to contain Kurdish aspirations for autonomy, and to ensure its dominance over Syrian armed opposition groups," he added. 

Seckin said Turkey's increased actions against ISIS were likely premised on a deal with the U.S. for establishment of a buffer zone in Syria. 

However, on Friday, the State Department dismissed Turkish reports that such a zone was a part of increased cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition and said talks on that issue were ongoing. 

"I don’t have anything to announce in terms of a buffer or no-fly zone," he added.