Kurdish War: Fall Offensive Moves Turks Into Northern Iraq


October 12, 2007: Turkey's 2007 "fall offensive" is proving to be a major, sustained counter-PKK effort. Both Turkish Army and paramilitary police (gendarmerie) are participating in the various operations in Turkey's predominantly-Kurd southeastern provinces. During the past week the Turkish government reported 15 Turkish soldiers and paramilitary police have died in fighting. That means the fighting has been widespread and intense. The offensive started in mid- September (possibly on September 12). The fact the fighting this year is particularly intense should not be a surprise. Last spring senior Turkish military leaders began sending the message that this year the Turkish security forces would attempt to destroy PKK rebels who remain on the Turkish side of the Turkey-Iraq border. Senior Turkish politicians let the military set the rhetorical stage, then began saying the same thing. The politicians used the statements to prod the Iraqi government. It was also politically popular within Turkey (except among pro-PKK Kurds, of course). In mid-November the looming winter weather makes military operations more difficult. The Turkish military estimates there are 1500 to 2000 PKK fighters within Turkey, so if the Turkish military intends to destroy PKK cadres or push them into Iraq or Syria, they have approximately nine to ten weeks to do it. The Turkish military estimates another 3500 are inside Iraq. At the moment major counter-PKK operations are underway in Hakkari, Siirt, and Sirnak provinces. Operations also continue in Tunceli, Diyarbakir, Bingol, and Bitlis. The army operations receive most of the press coverage, in part because the Turkish military files regular reports. The army would move across the border if the decision is made to attack PKK bases in northern Iraq. However, the paramilitary police are in many ways the better force for dealing with the small PKK cadres. The Gendarmerie is an arm of the Turkish Ministry of Interior but operates under military direction. The paramilitary police have their own special strike units (special operations units). The police play a key role in obtaining tactical intelligence. The police remain in the towns and villages. They are also always monitoring PKK supply routes and looking for supply caches. They also provide "continuing presence" which is vital in counter-insurgency operations. This is why the PKK targets Turkish paramilitary police headquarters and stations in the villages and border areas. Turkish military officers also acknowledged in late July that this year new, improved sensors have been deployed, including improved night vision video cameras located on suspected infiltration routes.

The Turkish government insists that the US Congress is "endangering" US-Turkish relations. The US Congress has passed a resolution condemning "the Armenian genocide" committed by Turkey in 1915. The Turkish government says that a war was going on (World War One) and that any genocide was committed by Ottoman Turkey, not the new republican Turkey.

October 10, 2007: Turkish fighter bombers struck PKK positions near the Turkey-Iraq border. The attack was coordinated with Turkish ground troops who took up blocking positions to stop PKK fighters from escaping into northern Iraq. The Turkish military report said that F-16 fighter bombers and helicopter gunships attacked the PKK positions. The attacks appear to be part of a major operation in Sirnak. Turkish armor was spotted in the town of Silopi (also in SIrnak province). Turkish artillery (located inside Turkey in Hakkari province) shelled alleged PKK base camps around Manimasa, Nazdur, and Sinath in northern Iraq.

October 9, 2007: Turkish security personnel reported arrested 20 PKK fighters in Sirnak province. The suspects were detained at a border crossing post on the Iraq-Turkey border. The Trukish military also reported an attack on PKK rebels in the Mount Gabar region (Sirnak province).

October 7, 2007: Turkish security personnel killed one PKK fighter in a clash in Sirnak province. Three Turkish soldiers were wounded in other action in the area.

October 4, 2007: The Turkish government reported that several firefights erupted between Turkish security personnel and PKK rebels in Mardin province (along the Syrian border). Operations also continue in Sirnak and Tunceli. Another government report characterized the firefights in Tunceli as "small-scale but intense," which suggests the firefights are small "running gun battles" between paramilitary police and PKK infiltrators.

September 30, 2007: PKK rebels attacks a minibus in the village of Besagac (Sirnak province). 12 villagers died in the attack. Seven of the villagers were members of the local "Vllage Guard" militia. This may have been a "payback" attack. Many PKK fighters and members of the Village Guards have a particularly personal animus. In the past the PKK have accused the Village Guards of various human rights abuses, like employing "death squads" and torturing of suspected PKK members. And the PKK have had good reason to make the accusations. In fact, the Turkish government has been trying to "reform" the Village Guard program, in part because of the human rights abuse accusations and pressure from the European Union to improve Turkey's human rights record.

Turkish troops have had an increasing number of clashes with PKK fighters over the last two weeks, as the army increased its efforts to find and destroy small units of PKK fighters hiding out in southeastern Turkey. Turkish officials are also openly talking about going after known PKK groups hiding out in northern Iraq.


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