Turkey strikes ISIS in Syria, Kurdish militants in north Iraq

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - The Turkish military on Saturday carried out a second wave of strikes against targets controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Syria and embarked on a new air campaign to bombard camps of Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

The two-pronged operation against ISIS and militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – two groups who are themselves bitterly opposed – came after a week of deadly violence in Turkey which the authorities blamed on the organisations.

The Turkish F-16 jets all returned safely to their base in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir early Saturday after the latest raids, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

The raids against ISIS, which had begun before dawn on Friday, marked a major shift in policy towards the group by key Nato member Turkey, which has faced severe criticism from its Western allies for not doing enough to combat the militants.

But on this occasion, planes also bombed positions of the PKK in neighbouring Iraq, where the outlawed group’s military forces are based.

“Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh (ISIS) terror group in Syria and the PKK terror group in northern Iraq,” the office of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a statement.

It said shelters and warehouses containing PKK weapons were hit in the northern Iraq operation, listing seven locations where the strikes had been carried out including Mount Kandil, where the PKK’s military leadership is based.

In addition to the air raids, Turkish ground forces also carried out artillery strikes against ISIS in Syria and the PKK in northern Iraq, the statement said.

“At around 11:00 pm (2000 GMT) tonight, Turkish warplanes started bombing our positions near the border, accompanied by heavy artillery shelling,” PKK spokesman in Iraq Bakhtiar Dogan confirmed to AFP.

Nato and the United Nations have been kept informed of the operations, the Turkish statement said.

- Arrests and protests -

The Turkish air strikes against the PKK targets in northern Iraq raised questions about the future of the delicate peace process between Turkey and Kurdish rebels, who until now have largely observed a ceasefire since 2013.

The PKK has for decades waged a deadly insurgency in the southeast of Turkey for self-rule that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The violence in Turkey erupted after the killing of 32 people in a suicide bombing on Monday in the Turkish town of Suruc on the Syrian border carried out by a 20-year old Turkish man linked to ISIS.

That attack sparked an upsurge in violence in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated south-east, where many accuse Turkish authorities of collaborating with ISIS.

The PKK then outraged the government by claiming the shooting dead of two Turkish police at home while they slept.

Turkish security forces on Saturday launched new raids to arrest suspected ISIS and PKK members in Istanbul and other cities, adding to hundreds of detentions already made the day earlier.

A total of 320 people have so far been arrested in 22 provinces across Turkey, Davutoglu’s office said.

Besides ISIS and the PKK, the arrest operations also targeted suspected members of the PKK’s youth wing, The Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), and the Marxist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party Front (DHKP-C).

With tensions running high across the country, Turkish police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest in the Istanbul district of Kadikoy by hundreds of people to denounce ISIS violence.

In the anti-establishment district of Gazi, protesters threw Molotov cocktails and engaged in pitched battles with police, an AFP photographer said.

Protesters in Gazi also defiantly carried the coffin of Gunay Ozarslan, a female activist killed in clashes with police on Friday during a raid on leftist militants.

Thousands are expected to respond to a call from Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party and turn out for a “march for peace” on Sunday in Istanbul which is set to be monitored by a heavy security presence.

- ‘Deal on air base’ -

Turkey has been accused of colluding with ISIS extremists in the hope they might further Ankara’s aim of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara has always vehemently denied the claims but the Nato member has dodged playing a full role in the US-led coalition assisting Kurds fighting ISIS militants.

Now, however, Ankara has finally given the green light to US forces for the use of its Incirlik base for air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, according to American and Turkish officials.

“A decision has been taken for Turkey’s own security,” Davutoglu added, declining to give details on the agreement.

The Dogan news agency said three war planes had taken off from Incirlik to strike targets inside Syria as part of the raids overnight Friday. However their nationality was not made clear.