ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish opposition parties pressed President Tayyip Erdogan’s government on Tuesday for answers over what they called a failed cross-border mission to rescue 13 captive Turks who were killed by PKK militants in northern Iraq.
In a fierce parliamentary debate two days after Ankara broke news of the killings in a cave in Iraq’s Gara region, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu rejected opposition criticism and said Turkey “did everything we could to bring our martyrs back alive”.
The captives, including police and military personnel, were mostly seized by outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in 2015 and 2016. Ankara said they were executed during an offensive against the PKK in the area that Erdogan later indicated also aimed to rescue them.
On Wednesday, the day the offensive was launched, Erdogan promised he would soon announce some unspecified “good news”.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), demanded the government declare who should take responsibility “for the failure of the operation launched to rescue our 13 citizens”, and he criticised Erdogan for undermining the secrecy of the offensive.
“The blood of our 13 brothers is on the ground. They could have been brought back to Turkey,” he said. The military “carried out an offensive with drums and trumpets. Tayyip Erdogan is responsible for our 13 martyrs,” Kilicdaroglu added.
Relying mostly on air and drone strikes, Turkey has in recent years carried out several operations in northern Iraq against the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Aytun Ciray, a lawmaker from the opposition Iyi Party, asked Akar on Tuesday why the rescue mission was treated like other offensives, saying air strikes would have alerted militants.
Briefing parliament on the operation, Akar said no ground support was available due to the mountainous terrain, insisting that secrecy was preserved in advance of the operation.
He said the captives were killed at the time Ankara launched air strikes in the region, which he said the military had been scouting for months. Akar added that the 13 captives were found dead when forces entered the cave where they were being held.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), under fire from the government and its nationalist ally who accuse it of links to the PKK, accused the government of failing to act in time. The HDP denies having any militant ties.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich)