Turkey announced early Sunday that it had carried out airstrikes on bases of outlawed Kurdish militants in northern Syria and Iraq, which it said were being used to carry out “terrorist attacks” on its territory.
The attack, codenamed Operation Claw-Sword, follows a deadly explosion in central Istanbul last Sunday that killed six people and wounded 81, which Turkey blamed on an outlawed Kurdish group.
“We are starting Operation Claw-Sword from now,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told the air force’s operations center before the planes left their bases to hit targets in northern Iraq and Syria.
Akar was also seen on video as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the latest operation, which a monitor said killed 12 people.
The attacks targeted bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers an extension of the PKK, the defense ministry said.
“In accordance with our right to self-defense, stemming from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, air operation Claw-Sword was carried out in areas of northern Iraq and Syria that are used as bases for attacks on our country by terrorists,” he added.
Turkey blamed the PKK for the Istanbul bombing, the deadliest in five years and which brought back bitter memories of a wave of bombings nationwide between 2015 and 2017 that were largely blamed on Kurdish militants and Islamic State jihadists.
The PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency in Turkey for decades and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies, and the YPG have both denied any involvement in the attack.
No individual or group has claimed responsibility.
Turkish police arrested the suspect Alham Albashir – a Syrian woman who is said to have been working for Kurdish militants – in the suburbs of Istanbul.
“The time of reckoning has arrived,” the Turkish Defense Ministry tweeted, along with a photo of a plane in the air during a night operation.
“The fraudulent attacks of the scoundrels are being held accountable,” he said.
“Terrorist bases that have been demolished by precise attacks,” the ministry said in another post, which accompanied a video showing a target being picked from the air, followed by an explosion.
Turkey carried out more than 20 attacks on areas in the Syrian provinces of Raqa, Aleppo and Hassakeh, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group with an extensive network of contacts across Syria.
The strikes killed at least six members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and six government soldiers, the monitor said.
A PKK spokesman said the strikes have not caused any casualties so far.
The Turkish military regularly attacks PKK strongholds in Iraq – a thorn in Ankara’s relationship with the Baghdad government – and since April has been conducting Operation Claw-Lock in northern Iraq in search of militants.
While Ankara did not provide details of the operation, the US-backed SDF said the northeastern Syrian city of Kobane was among the targets of Turkish strikes.
“#Kobane, the city that defeated ISIS, is bombarded by Turkish occupation planes,” SDF spokesman Farhad Shami tweeted.
The SDF provided critical aid to the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
But Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group linked to the PKK.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has said Ankara believes the attack in Istanbul was ordered from Kobane, which is controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces.
“Turkish bombs in our safe areas threaten the entire region,” tweeted Mazloum Abdi, the head of the US-allied SDF.
“This bombing is in no one’s interest. We are doing our best to avoid a catastrophe. If war breaks out, everyone will be affected.”
Kobane, a Kurdish-majority town near the Turkish border, was captured by IS in late 2014 before being driven out by Syrian Kurds early the following year.
The US State Department said on Friday it feared possible military action by Turkey and advised its citizens not to travel to northern Syria and Iraq.
Turkey has launched waves of attacks on Syria since 2016 targeting Kurdish militias as well as IS jihadists and Ankara-backed forces have captured territory along the Syrian border.
Since May, Erdogan has threatened to launch a new operation in northern Syria.
© 2022 AFP