Turkey has launched a cross-border operation into neighboring Iraq against Kurdish militants in a mountainous northern region of the country.
The Turkish defense ministry confirmed its military unleashed a barrage of artillery fire and air strikes on Monday afternoon before ground forces entered northern Iraq to “demolish the caves and shelters that are being used by terrorist groups and to eliminate terrorists” — a reference to the outlawed PKK.
“The operation, with the support of our attack helicopters, is continuing as planned,” the statement said further. While cross-border shelling has happened somewhat frequently in the past, Turkey has rarely sent ground troops.
Back in December 2015 when Turkey, claiming to be engaged in counter-ISIS and general counter-insurgency operations, crossed into Iraq with a large ground force then Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi demanded Turkey cease violating Iraqi sovereignty, in a standoff which proved a major embarrassment for Baghdad.
Not only has Turkey not been bashful about routinely violating the sovereignty of both Iraq and Syria ostensibly to “fight terrorists”, it has often positively boasted about it and published video footage of the incursions.
Citing the defense ministry, Reuters reports the following of the ongoing, controversial operation:
It said the operation targeted Iraq’s Hakurk region, just across the border from Turkey’s southeastern tip, which also borders Iran. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group is based in northern Iraq, notably in the Qandil region to the south of Hakurk.
Video published by the ministry showed helicopters landing commandos on mountainous terrain. It also shared photos showing shells fired by howitzers and soldiers perched on ridges, surveying hillsides with their rifles.
In Syria, Turkey has recently strained its relations with the United States over Washington’s support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), composed mainly of Kurkdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG/YPJ), which Ankara sees as but an extension of the “terrorist” PKK.
Turkey’s President Erdogan has repeatedly condemned what he sees as US aid and support to a banned terrorist group, while in recent years American officials have laid blame for the rise of ISIS on Turkey’s well-known and active support to jihadists in northern Syria.