It was the first major air strikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, since peace talks began two years ago to end a 30-year insurgency in Turkey. It added to tensions between the key US coalition partner and PKK, a militant group listed as a terrorist organisation by the US that is also among the fiercest opponents of IS.
The return to violence between the two parties suggests that Turkey’s focus may not be on IS, even as it negotiates its role with the US and Nato allies fighting the extremists.
Turkey has provoked frustration among allies, by saying it won’t join the fight against IS militants unless the coalition also targets Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The attack follows a week of violence in Turkey spawned by the IS advance on the Syrian town of Kobani.
More than 30 people were killed last week as Kurds, angered at what they said was a Turkish impediment to efforts to defend Kobani, clashed with police and supporters of an Islamist group in cities across Turkey. Turkish authorities said at least two police officers were killed in what was interpreted in Turkey as a PKK assassination attempt on a police chief.
Kurds in Turkey accuse the government of standing by while Syrian Kurds are being slaughtered in the besieged town across the border.
Meanwhile, the US-led coalition yesterday launched 22 air strikes on IS positions in Syria, with all but one targeting positions in and around Kobani, the US defence department said.
“Over the past night there have been very intense air strikes by the coalition that targeted several Daesh positions in and near Kobani,” said Idriss Nassan, deputy head of Kobani’s foreign relations committee, using an Arabic term to refer to IS.
One of the air strikes targeted the Tel Shair hill that overlooks parts of Kobani, Mr Nassan said. He added that Kurdish fighters later captured the hill and brought down the IS black flag. The extremist group still controls more than a third of the predominantly Kurdish town.
The fate of Kobani is being watched closely in Turkey, where Kurdish leaders have warned its fall would end the peace process. Meanwhile, PKK commander Cemal Bayik has been quoted in Turkish media as saying some PKK fighters who had withdrawn from Turkish territory as part of the peace efforts have now returned.
The PKK and affiliated groups are an important force on the ground in both Iraq and Syria fighting the Islamic State group. The PKK has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.