ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey announced early Sunday it had carried out air strikes against outlawed Kurdish militant bases across northern Syria and Iraq which it said were being used to launch terrorist attacks on its soil.
The offensive codenamed Operation Claw-Sword comes after a deadly blast in central Istanbul last Sunday which killed six people and wounded 81, with Turkey blaming a banned Kurdish group.
“We are starting Operation Claw-Sword from now on,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said at the air force operations center before the planes left their bases to hit the targets in northern Iraq and Syria.
Akar was also seen in a video image briefing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who gave the order for the latest operation, which a monitor said had killed 12 people.
The raids targeted bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers an extension of the PKK, the defence ministry said.
“In line with our self-defence rights arising from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, air operation Claw-Sword was carried out in the regions in the north of Iraq and Syria which are used as bases for attacks on our country by terrorists,” it added.
Turkey blamed the PKK for the Istanbul bombing, the deadliest in five years and which evoked bitter memories of a wave of nationwide bombings from 2015 to 2017 that were attributed mostly to Kurdish militants and Daesh terrorists.
The PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency in Turkey for decades and which is designated as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies, and the YPG have both denied any involvement in the attack.
No individual or group has claimed responsibility.
Turkish police captured the chief suspect Alham Albashir -- a Syrian woman who is said to have been working for Kurdish militants -- in an Istanbul suburb.
“The hour of reckoning has come,” the Turkish defence ministry tweeted, along with a photo of a plane taking off for a night operation.
“The treacherous attacks of the scoundrels are being held to account,” it said.
“Terrorist hotbeds razed by precision strikes,” the ministry said in another post, which was accompanied by a video showing a target being selected from the air followed by an explosion.