Turkey threatens to expand strikes in Syria, Iraq

Turkey said Wednesday it might expand cross-border air strikes on alleged PKK locations in Iraq and Syria, citing evidence that militants involved in a recent Ankara attack had origins in Syria’s Kurdish-led region. Following Sunday’s assault, a high-level national security meeting was convened by the Turkish government to deliberate on the response.

Authorities confirmed the death of one attacker by police gunfire, while another perpetrator died from a presumed suicide explosion near the Turkish Interior Ministry, injuring two security personnel.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and several Western nations — took responsibility for the bombing, marking the first in Ankara since 2016.

“The two terrorists involved in the recent attack hailed from Syria and received their training there,” Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan stated in a televised address.

He further warned, “Effective immediately, all infrastructure, major facilities, and energy sites linked to armed Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria are deemed legitimate targets by our security forces. I urge third parties to steer clear of these locations.”

Turkey has previously lashed out at the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) for its close affiliation with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is backed by the U.S., particularly over their collaboration on counterterrorism measures.

A recent drone attack at Arbat Airport in Sulaymaniyah, located in the Kurdistan Region, resulted in the death of three members from the PUK’s Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG). An additional three members were injured.

There are claims that members affiliated with the SDF were present at the Arbat Airfield, which is known for military training. Both PUK, SDF, and Sulaymaniyah officials have denied these allegations.

In response to the events, Ankara halted all flight operations to and from Sulaymaniyah Airport through its airspace, further straining relations with the PUK.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s assault, Turkish forces initiated air strikes against rear bases of the PKK in the Kurdistan Region.

On Wednesday, the Defense Ministry shared new images, suggesting that PKK sites in Iraq had been targeted the previous night.

Amid rising tensions, Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet Al-Abbasi is slated to meet his Turkish counterpart, Yasar Guler, in Ankara on Thursday.

The remarks by Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan indicate that Turkey might escalate its drone and artillery assaults in Syria. Reports from Turkish media on Wednesday revealed that the country’s intelligence agency, MIT, carried out an operation in Syria, targeting and killing an individual believed to be a key planner of the Istanbul bombing last November, which resulted in six fatalities.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights verified the death of an intelligence official in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northeastern Syria on Tuesday.

Ankara maintains military bases in Syria and backs factions opposing both the Syrian regime and Kurdish forces.

In 2019, the SDF spearheaded the campaign that eradicated the last remnants of the Islamic State group in Syria. However, Turkey perceives the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a major component of the SDF, as an extension of the PKK.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has initiated multiple military intrusions into Syria and consistently vocalized threats of intensifying assaults against the YPG.

On Tuesday, Ankara reported the arrest of 67 individuals suspected of affiliation with the PKK following operations in Turkey’s primarily Kurdish southeast region.

The recent assault on Sunday happened concurrently with the commencement of a Turkish parliamentary session. During this session, legislators are set to consider the ratification of Sweden’s membership in the NATO defense alliance.

Turkey’s endorsement has faced delays due to frustrations stemming from the Swedish police’s decision not to prohibit PKK-supported marches in Stockholm.

Some experts posit that the PKK might be aiming to obstruct Turkey’s endorsement, anticipating that such a move could strengthen the diplomatic relationship between Ankara and Washington.

Turkey has been lobbying the U.S. to withdraw its backing of the SDF. Analysts say Ankara may expect this in exchange for its ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership.

AFP contributed to this report