Turkey to expand military operations into Iraq, says Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday vowed to expand cross-border operations targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, following the killing of 13 abducted Turkish soldiers, police and civilians in the region.

Cross-border operations will expand towards “areas that still pose an intense threat,” Erdoğan said, referring to the areas controlled by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Thirteen Turkish citizens, most of whom were members of Turkey’s security and intelligence services, were killed on Sunday during a Turkish military operation in Gara, near the Turkish border in northern Iraq, against encampments of the PKK.

“Gara was a problematic area, and Gara has fallen. Allah willing, that job is done,” Erdoğan said. “We will remain in areas we have secured for as long as necessary so we aren’t subject to similar attacks again.’’

Erdoğan accused Turkey’s allies of “remaining silent’’ on the execution of 13 Turkish citizens, “except for a few weak voices.”

The soldiers, policemen and intelligence officers, as well as at least two people without military titles, had been held prisoner by the PKK for more than five years. According to Turkish officials, they were executed by shots to their heads, while PKK says Turkish jets bombed the area the men were held in, leading to their deaths.

“We are fighting against a terrorist organisation whose past is full of civilian massacres, and who most recently went so low as to ruthlessly execute unarmed people,” Erdoğan said. “Whatever den they are hiding in, we will find them and kill them off there.”

The incident proved how important Turkey’s cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq were, according to the president. “The duplicity of supporters of terrorism raises our rage and proves how righteous our steps, operations and policies were,” he added.

Turkey continues at full speed operations against the PKK in northern Iraq, where the group has its main headquarters and many bases, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a Tuesday briefing in parliament.

Operation Claw Eagle 2, launched on Feb. 10, was conducted entirely by the Turkish Air Force, with no support from or contact with land forces, Akar said. In total, Turkish troops captured alive two PKK members and recovered 51 bodies of PKK members according to the minister.

The operation spanned a 75 km wide by 25 km deep area along Turkey’s border with Iraq, Akar said.

Answering accusations posed by the opposition that the government ignored the families of the 13 abductees, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, “We didn’t treat these families like just citizens, Allah be my witness, we became sons to them.”

The government met with the families every three months during the years their loved ones spent in captivity, according to Soylu.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Hüda Kaya had said the families had visited all parties in parliament “countless times” over the years, but weren’t received by the government. “Those who shut their doors on these families now chose to profit off of the blood of their sons, they worked for it and now they race to get it. For shame!” Kaya said in a tweet. The deputy is facing an investigation over her comments on the deaths.

“These children were killed on the 10th of this month,” Soylu said. Targeting the Human Rights Association (İHD), the minister continued: “The terrorist organisation has carried out 6,021 civilian massacres since 1984. Has that damned İHD spoken up against any one of those?”

Anybody who expects a terrorist organisation to show mercy, conscience or morality is a “nitwit” and a “traitor,’’ Soylu said.

A member of PKK called the families from a Belgian number after the operation on Gara began, according to the minister. “Our sons were martyred on the 10th. Later, they told the families to ask the Turkish Armed Forces to stop bombing the area,” he said. “After our children were martyred, (PKK) tried to exploit their deaths, like it did their families for five years.”

“We won’t rest easy until we tear Murat Karayılan into a thousand pieces, Allah is my witness,” Soylu concluded, repeating in parliament a previous tweet against PKK’s second-in-command.

Meanwhile, the People's Defence Forces (HPG), the military wing of the PKK, accused the Turkish military of using chemicals in the Siyane camp, where the Turkish prisoners were kept, Iraqi-Kurdish Rudaw news agency reported on Tuesday.

“Despite the passing of three days (since the incident), there is a strong odour of gas and chemicals in the prison camp and its surroundings,” the HPG said, making it impossible to conduct an investigation.

The HPG also said it was “highly likely” that everyone in the camp had been “shot after being killed by chemical gas.”

During his speech in parliament, Akar repeatedly said the Turkish troops had used tear gas, but no other weapons.

“It was impossible to affect the cave with aerial units,” Akar said. “There were two entrances. Shots were being fired and grenades were thrown from the inside, and our soldiers retaliated as necessary. Only tear gas was used. There is no question of any other weapons or ammunition being used.”