Turkey bombs Kurdish foes in Iraq and Syria in retaliatory strike
By Ben Hubbard and Sangar Khaleel
Turkish fighter jets carried out dozens of airstrikes in northern Syria and Iraq on Sunday, in what Turkish officials called an anti-terrorism campaign to root out militants they accused of orchestrating a deadly bomb attack last week in Istanbul.
“The scoundrels are being held accountable for the treacherous attacks!” the Turkish Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter before dawn Sunday, in a post with a photo of a warplane taking off. The strikes targeted shelters, tunnels, ammunition dumps and training camps, the ministry said.
More than two dozen people were reportedly killed, but different groups gave different numbers, and they may not have acknowledged all the fighters killed.
The Kurdish-led militia that administers northeastern Syria said 14 civilians and one fighter had been killed. The group, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, vowed to strike back against Turkey.
“These attacks will not remain unanswered,” the SDF General Command said in a statement. “We will respond effectively and efficiently at the right time and place.”
The new violence was a sharp uptick in tensions between two forces that have long hated each other and that both have close relationships with the United States.
In Syria, the United States worked with the SDF to fight the jihadis of the Islamic State group, and a small contingent of U.S. forces remains in the territory the group controls in northeastern Syria near the Turkish border.
But that partnership has enraged Turkey, a U.S. ally in NATO, which views Syria’s Kurdish fighters as part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought a bloody, decadeslong insurgency against the Turkish state, aimed at gaining independence or greater autonomy. Turkey, the European Union and the United States consider the insurgent group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organization.
After a bombing last week that killed six people and injured dozens on a busy pedestrian avenue in Istanbul, Turkish authorities released photos of a woman whom they said had planted the bomb and accused her of working for the PKK. Dozens of other suspects have been arrested as authorities seek to uncover how the crime was committed.
The Istanbul bombing was the first such attack in Turkey in more than five years, and it raised fears that the country could return to the days when its cities were regularly targeted by the PKK or the jihadis of the Islamic State group.
In a statement Sunday, the Turkish Defense Ministry said its warplanes had hit 89 targets in northern Iraq and Syria, all military infrastructure connected to the PKK. The campaign aimed to “fend off terror attacks from northern Iraq and northern Syria, provide border security and destroy terror from its source,” the ministry said.
A video posted on the ministry’s Twitter feed showed the names of two Turkish children who were killed in the Istanbul attack written on bombs attached to fighter jets.
Farhad al-Shami, a spokesperson for the SDF in northwestern Syria, said that among the civilians killed were a worker at an electricity station and two guards who were protecting grain silos, as well as one SDF fighter.