Turkey launched a fresh round of airstrikes against Kurdish insurgents Monday, vowing to ramp up its campaign against them after an attack on Turkish troops that may be the deadliest since a three-year truce unraveled in July.
On Sunday, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ambushed a military convoy in Hakkari in the southeast, killing 15 soldiers, according to the group. Reuters quoted a security source saying that as many as 16 soldiers had died. If confirmed, this would be the deadliest attack in years. Turkey responded with airstrikes on 13 targets, The New York Times reports.
Sunday's attack is a turning point in the resumed hostilities, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today, according to Bloomberg:
We will make them pay dearly,” Erdogan told AHaber television in an interview late Sunday. With this attack, he warned, the military campaign has “embarked upon a very different course.”
More than 70 members of the Turkish security forces have been killed since hostilities resumed in July. The government, meanwhile, says it has killed 2,000 PKK militants.
The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state, demanding autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, since the 1980s. That call has softened over time to calls for greater political rights. But tensions ramped up in June, when a pro-Kurdish party gathered enough votes to join parliament for the first time. Turkey will hold fresh elections on Nov. 1 after the ruling party failed to form a coalition government.
Turkey’s renewed conflict with the Kurds comes as Turkey boosts its cooperation with the US against the self-described Islamic State militant group in Syria. The US military is already supporting Kurdish paramilitaries in Syria and Iraq who have proven effective in resisting IS. That makes Turkey's Kurds both an ally in the fight against IS and a threat to Turkey's internal stability.
The rise of IS has reshaped the battle lines in the Middle East. As the Monitor reported in August, the fight against IS has emboldened young Kurds, who are reviving some of the more hardline demands from the PKK's past campaigns:
What sets this new generation apart – analysts, parents, and teachers warn – is that they are less fearful and far more ambitious than their predecessors. Their nationalist resolve has been forged on the front lines against IS and boosted by social media.
“Today the positions of the Kurds in the Middle East made the younger generation more self-confident and made them think about separation,” says Mehmet Alkis, a political lecturer at Dicle University. “They say we don’t belong to Turkey psychologically and politically.”
In a separate story soon after the resumption of hostilities in July, the Monitor wrote that Turkey considers PKK militants as much or more of a security threat than IS. The majority of those arrested in a roundup of alleged terrorists in late July were “thought to be PKK sympathizers.”
As a result, Turkey “withheld support” for Kurds fighting in northern Syria against IS, fearing they would strengthen Kurds in Turkey as well.