ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to set up more temporary military bases in northern Iraq after stepping up its strikes against Kurdish militants there, a senior Turkish official told Reuters, saying the effort would ensure border security.
Ankara launched two separate operations in northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Sunday and Tuesday, in response to what it said was an increase in militant attacks on Turkish army bases along the border between the countries.
On Thursday, the Defence Ministry said Turkish forces struck more than 500 PKK targets with F-16 jets, drones, and howitzers as part of the “Claw-Tiger Operation” in the Haftanin region.
The senior Turkish official, who requested anonymity, said Ankara began the operations after talks with Iraqi authorities to rid its border of militants and to target the PKK’s forces, routes and logistic capabilities.
“The plan is to establish temporary base areas (to) prevent the cleared regions from being used for the same purpose again. There are already more than 10 temporary bases there. New ones will be established,” the official said.
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, focused in southeast Turkey.
Turkey regularly attacks PKK militants, both in its mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based. It has also warned in recent years of a potential ground offensive against PKK bases in Iraq’s Qandil mountains.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said on Wednesday that Turkish and Iranian military interventions violated Iraqi sovereignty. The UAE and Turkey in opposition on several fronts, including in Libya where they back rival sides.
Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad, Fatih Yildiz, said on Twitter on Tuesday that he had been summoned by the Iraqi foreign ministry over the Turkish operation.
But the senior official told Reuters that Ankara’s push would continue: “There is no such thing as a duration for the operation. The operation will continue for as long as necessary until it reaches its objective.”
(Additional reporting and writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler, Jonathan Spicer and Pravin Char)