Turkish opposition parties pressed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government on Tuesday for answers over what they called a failed cross-border mission to rescue 13 captive Turks who were killed by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq.
In a fierce parliamentary debate two days after Ankara broke news of the killings in a cave in Iraq’s Gara region, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu rejected opposition criticism and said Turkey “did everything we could to bring our martyrs back alive.”
The captives, including police and military personnel, were mostly seized by outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in 2015 and 2016. Ankara said they were executed during an offensive against the PKK in the area that Erdoğan later indicated also aimed to rescue them.
On Wednesday, the day the offensive was launched, Erdoğan promised he would soon announce some unspecified “good news.”
Many questions, few answers
Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), demanded the government declare who should take responsibility “for the failure of the operation launched to rescue our 13 citizens” and criticised Erdoğan for undermining the secrecy of the offensive.
“The blood of our 13 brothers is on the ground. They could have been brought back to Turkey,” he said. The military “carried out an offensive with drums and trumpets. Tayyip Erdoğan is responsible for our 13 martyrs,” Kiliçdaroğlu added.
Relying mostly on air and drone strikes, Turkey has in recent years carried out several operations in northern Iraq against the PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
Aytun Çıray, a lawmaker from the opposition Iyi Party, asked Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday why the rescue mission was treated like other offensives, saying air strikes would have alerted militants.
Briefing parliament on the operation, Akar said no ground support was available due to the mountainous terrain, insisting that secrecy was preserved in advance of the operation.
He said the captives were killed at the time Ankara launched air strikes in the region, which he said the military had been scouting for months. Akar added that the 13 captives were found dead when forces entered the cave where they were being held.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), under fire from the government and its nationalist ally who accuse it of links to the PKK, accused the government of failing to act in time. The HDP denies having any militant ties.
Expanding anti-PKK operations
Despite the wave of criticism and the pressure at home, Erdoğan vowed on Tuesday to expand cross-border operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.
In a speech to his ruling party’s supporters, Erdoğan said that the killings have strengthened Turkey’s will to form a secure zone along its border in northern Iraq to protect Turkey’s frontiers from the outlawed PKK.
“In the period ahead, we will be expanding our operations — thanks to which we have made a significant advance — to regions where the threats are intensive,” Erdoğan said. “The event in Gara has strengthened our opinions about for a safe zone across our borders to protect our people and the state.”
“We will stay in these places which we will secure for as long as it takes so that we are not subjected to such an attack again,” he added.
Turkey has carried out numerous cross border incursions into Iraq over the years to fight the PKK, which maintains bases in the region.
Turkey has long been seeking to form a secure zone along its borders with Iraq and Syria to force Kurdish insurgents away from the frontier.
(This article was originally published by The Arab Weekly and reproduced by permission.)