ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey said Wednesday it has airlifted troops into northern Iraq for a cross-border ground operation against Marxist-nationalist Kurdistan Workers Party fighters who are considered terrorists in Turkey.
The airborne-and-land offensive into the border region of Haftanin, some 9 miles from the Turkey-Iraq border, was launched following intense artillery fire into the area, said the Defense Ministry in Ankara.
The operation by commando forces is being supported by warplanes, attack helicopters, artillery, and armed and unarmed drones, according to the ministry’s statement posted on Twitter. It did not say how many troops are involved.
Turkey regularly carries out air and ground attacks against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which it says maintains bases in northern Iraq from which it operates incursions into Turkish territories.
Turkey has defended its past operations into northern Iraq, saying neither the Iraqi government nor the regional Iraqi Kurdish administration have acted to remove PKK insurgents.
The ministry said Wednesday’s operation, dubbed Operation Claw-Tiger, follows “increasing harassment and attempts to attack” military outposts or bases in Turkey. It said the Turkish forces would target other “terror” groups in the region, and shared videos of Defense Minister Hulusi Akar overseeing the mission at a command center in Ankara.
He pointed out that his own party has 50 Kurdish parliament members and that Turkey has good relations with the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously said that his government makes a distinction between Kurds as an ethnicity and some Kurdish organizations like the PKK, which Turkey considers terrorist organizations.
“We have no problems with the Kurds,” he said. “We have problems with terrorist organizations.”
The development came days after Turkey launched an air operation in the region, which the Defense Ministry said hit suspected PKK targets in several locations in Iraq’s north, including Sinjar, and targeted 81 PKK hideouts.
A Turkish military official said the operation began with artillery units targeting some 150 suspected PKK positions and was followed by an aerial attack involving F-16s, drones and attack helicopters.
Some of the commandos crossed the border by land while other units were transported by helicopters. The troops had begun to enter PKK hideouts in Haftanin, the official said, providing the information on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
It was not clear if the latest offensive would target the Sinjar region, which the Turkish government says has become a new base for PKK commanders. A video provided by the Turkish Defense Ministry showed Akar addressing the commandos, saying they “will make history once again.”
“Turkey continues its fight against terrorists using the rights based on international law,” said Omer Celik, deputy chairman of Erdoğan’s ruling party.
Delsher Abdulsata, the mayor of Batifa village in the Haftanin area of Dohuk province, said Turkish forces entered the villages of Keshani, Shilan, Menira, Belbla, Mezuri, Awlayi and Reesha. Bombings began Tuesday night and continued throughout the day Wednesday, he said.
Residents of the villages refused to leave their farmlands because it is their only source of livelihood, he said.
Zagros Hiwa, spokesperson for the military wing of the PKK, said fighting was continuing in the Haftanin area along a 200-kilometer (125-mile) front line.
Baghdad summoned Ankara’s ambassador to Iraq , Fatih Yildiz, on Tuesday to protest Turkey’s offensive against PKK targets in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
The PKK has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast region. It is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. The conflict has led to the loss of tens of thousands lives since it started in 1984.
Turkey began an operation at the border with Iraq last summer against PKK targets following the July 17 assassination of Osman Kose in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil. Kose worked for the Turkish Consulate there and Ankara has blamed the PKK for his killing.
Turkish officials have said the operations have focused on cutting supply lines and transport routes connecting the PKK in Turkey and Iraq.
The Epoch Times contributed to this report.