January 1, 2012: The new year may see the Kurdish War get hotter, as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) seeks to take political advantage of the Turkish Air Force’s December 28, 2011 night air raid that mistakenly killed 35 civilians. In the wake of that tragedy the PKK is calling for a massive Kurdish uprising against the Turkish government. The Turkish military said that it believed its aircraft were striking a PKK base when they conducted the December 28th raid. An unmanned aerial recon vehicle had spotted the group in an area in northern Iraq called Sinat-Haftanin near the Iraq-Turkey border. The military claimed that this was not a civilian area. Turkey’s main Kurdish political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), stated that the group the air force bombed was Kurdish villagers smuggling gasoline and food across the border. A BDP spokesman compared the Turkish government to the Syrian government and said that any government which murders its own people has no political legitimacy. Most of the dead were from the village of Ortasu, in Sirnak province. That allegation hurts and it is supposed to. Turkey is criticizing Syria’s Assad regime for murdering its own people. The Turkish government quickly conceded that the people killed in the air strike were not PKK rebels, though the government statement characterized the group as cigarette smugglers. The Turkish military and police do not care too much about smuggling cigarettes or fuel by locals as long as they are not smuggling weapons or illegal drugs. The government called the attack an operational mistake and also promised that there would be a thorough investigation of the tragedy. The government prosecutor’s office for Sirnak province has already requested any video imagery that might be available related to the military operation, including from unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The PKK, however, believes it has been handed a very big political and media opportunity. Many of the people killed were young men in their late teens. The PKK is portraying the air raid as a massacre of Kurds and young Kurds in particular. The incident in Diyarbakir, where two young Kurds were slain in what Turkish police described as a gun battle (see December 31 post) fits into this narrative. The PKK launched several attacks in October 2011, including one which killed 24 Turkish soldiers. Turkish security forces have been conducting counter-PKK operations in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The government has also clamped down on Kurdish political activists it claims are a political front for the PKK. The PKK will seek to tie the smugglers’ deaths to the political clamp down and attempt to radicalize angry Kurds. Kurd political groups claim that the government now has at least 4000 Kurds in jail, many on terrorism charges. The Turkish government argues the PKK does not represent all Kurds –and it does not, by any means. However, mainstream Kurdish political groups say that what they want amounts to basic human rights within Turkey. They want schools which teach in the Kurdish language and more local political autonomy. These mainstream groups emphasize that local autonomy does not mean a separate Kurdish state. The PKK demands a separate Kurdish state.
December 31, 2011: A large political protest broke out in the city of Diyarbakir after Turkish security forces killed two alleged members of a PKK unit in a gun battle inside Diyarbakir. Demonstrators claimed the government lied and that the two young people who were slain were university students.
December 29, 2011: The Turkish military reported that its air force had made a targeting error and killed 35 cigarette smugglers instead of PKK guerrillas. The airstrike, launched late on the evening of December 28, hit a site in northern Iraq just across the border from Sirnak province. Turkish Air Force F-16s conducted the bombing raid.
December 26, 2011: Security forces have discovered a large underground bunker in Bingol province used by the PKK. The bunker has six rooms (including sleeping quarters). The bunker was stocked with food and clothing as well as ammunition. The PKK uses sites like this to keep its fighters supplied during winter.
December 24, 2011: The Turkish military claimed that its forces killed 27 PKK rebels in a series of operations in Sirnak province that began on December 5. The operations, which ended on December 23, took place in Mount Cudi region (Iraq-Syria-Turkey border area). Five PKK fighters also surrendered to security forces. Turkish Army and gendarme units participated in the offensive operations. The Mount Cudi area is riddled with caves, which PKK rebels use to store equipment and munitions.
December 22, 2011: Turkish security forces arrested two PKK militants in Bingol province (southeastern Turkey).
December 16, 2011: The U.S. government said that it will continue to help Turkey in its fight against the PKK. Both Turkey and the US regard the PKK as a terrorist organization. The U.S. has been helping coordinate intelligence sharing between Iraq and Turkey regarding PKK operations in Iraq. Turkey will also acquire several new U.S. attack helicopters (Super Cobras). Turkey also has access to intelligence gathered by U.S. Predator UAVs based at Turkey’s Incirlik air base (located in southern Turkey).
December 8, 2011: The Turkish military reported that it is conducting a series of offensive operations in southeastern Turkey. Fighting usually slackens during the winter but it appears that the Turkish government has decided to respond to the PKK’s late summer and fall upsurge in attacks by conducting a sustained offensive even in winter weather.
December 5, 2011: The Turkish government said that it had captured a very senior PKK commander. The government gave no details about the arrest other than that it was made in Istanbul.
December 3, 2011: The Turkish government claimed that its security forces killed three PKK rebels near the town of Lice (Diyarbakir province, southeastern Turkey).
December 2, 2011: The Turkish government said that the looming US withdrawal from Iraq will not diminish American-Turkish cooperation against the PKK. Senior US officials confirmed that if anything, the US will increase its support for Turkish political and security efforts against the PKK.