Turkey launched airstrikes targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq on Sunday just hours after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing in Ankara.
In a statement, the Turkish Defense Ministry said its warplanes destroyed twenty PKK targets, including caves, bunkers, shelters, and warehouses, in the regions of Metina, Hakurk, Kandil, and Gara.
“Many terrorists were neutralized by using the maximum amount of domestic and national ammunition,” said the statement, which cited self-defense rights from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to justify the strikes.
The PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, said earlier it was behind the blast Sunday outside Turkey’s Interior Ministry building that left one dead and two injured, the pro-PKK Firat News Agency reported.
In a statement, the ministry said two attackers murdered a civilian and stole his vehicle ahead of the opening of Parliament in Ankara. Two police officers reportedly received non-life-threatening injuries.
One assailant blew himself up and the other was “neutralized,” the ministry reported.
Investigators found four different types of guns, three hand grenades, one rocket launcher, and C-4 explosives at the scene.
At least one of the two attackers is a PKK member, the ministry said, and the second attacker has yet to be identified.
Turkey’s long war against Kurdish militants
According to Ankara, the PKK trains separatist fighters and launches attacks against Turkey from its bases in northern Iraq and Syria, where a PKK-affiliated Kurdish group controls large swaths of territory.
Approximately thirty million Kurds live in the Middle East—primarily in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—and the Kurds comprise nearly one-fifth of the population of Turkey.
The PKK, established by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978, has waged an insurgency since 1984 against Turkish authorities for greater cultural and political rights, primarily with the objective of establishing an independent Kurdish state.
The ongoing conflict has resulted in nearly forty thousand deaths, according to a recent report by the Global Conflict Tracker of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Under the Erdogan regime, tensions have risen between Turkish authorities and Kurdish groups, the report notes.
In particular, the PKK, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (a left-wing pro-Kurdish party), and the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) (the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party with ties to the PKK) have increasingly agitated the government, conducting numerous attacks against Turkish authorities, particularly in the southeast.
In July 2015, a two-year cease-fire between Turkey’s government and the PKK collapsed following a suicide bombing by suspected self-proclaimed Islamic State militants that killed nearly thirty Kurds near the Syrian border.
Following the coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan cracked down on suspected coup conspirators, arrested an estimated fifty thousand people, and increased air strikes on PKK militants in southeastern Turkey.
He also stepped up military operations in Syria against the YPG and the self-declared Islamic State, deploying tanks, special forces, and air support in Turkey’s first major offensive.
Turkey largely succeeded in pushing the Islamic State out and securing the captured areas under Syrian rebel control, preventing the YPG, which Erdogan calls a terrorist organization, from expanding its control to the western bank of the Euphrates River along Turkey’s border.