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Turkey launches assault against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq

October 19, 2011 |  7:22 am

Turkish amored personnel carriers near the border with Iraq
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Turkey launched a land and air assault against suspected Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq on Wednesday in apparent retaliation for a string of attacks along the border that killed at least 24 Turkish soldiers and injured 18, according to news reports.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had begun large-scale operations, including "a hot pursuit within the limits of international law,” the Associated Press reported.

"We will never bow to any attack from inside or outside Turkey,” Erdogan said at a televised news conference.

Warplanes were reported to be headed for bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK, inside Iraq. Helicopter gunships were said  to be ferrying in troops, though news agency accounts indicated that the incursion appeared to be limited.

PKK militants claimed responsibility for the attacks Wednesday on Turkish troops, saying nearly 100 security force members were injured or killed, Reuters reported. Turkey put the toll at 24 soldiers killed and 18 wounded. At least five Kurdish fighters were also killed in the clashes, according to the PKK.

Turkey last staged a major ground offensive against Iraq in early 2008, AP reported.

Turkish leaders have expressed mounting frustration with attacks by Kurdish insurgents seeking autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Rebel attacks have killed dozens of Turkish security force members and a number of civilians in recent months.

Officials in Ankara have protested an alleged PKK sanctuary inside neighboring Iraq, which, like Turkey, has a large ethnic Kurdish population. Erdogan had previously indicated that Turkey was planning to strike back.

The PKK has been fighting Turkish authorities for more than two decades in a conflict that has cost thousands of lives.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Turkish armored personnel carriers drive on a mountain road near the border with Iraq in an image taken from DHA television on Wednesday. Credit: DHA / APTN / Associated Press