Turkish offensive in Iraq ‘complete’ after 13 kidnapped nationals found dead

Troops from Turkey found the bodies in a cave in northern Iraq

The coffins of three Turkish military personnel killed in action are carried during funeral prays at Ankara's Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Mosque in Ankara on February 12, 2021.  The three soldiers Lt. Burak Coskun, Lt. Ertug Guler and Sgt. First Class Harun Turhan were killed during clashes with Kurdish militants in northern Iraq's Gara region as part of the Eagle Claw 2 operation by the Turkish military against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).  / AFP / Adem ALTAN

Turkey's latest offensive in northern Iraq was to rescue 13 citizens kidnapped by Kurdish separatist forces, all of whom have been found dead, the Turkish defence ministry said on Sunday.

Ankara launched the operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group, in the northern Gara Mountain region last Wednesday.

The operation was to secure Turkey’s borders and find the missing nationals, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Sunday.

Announcing the end of the operation, Mr Akar said the bodies of the 13 kidnapped Turks had been found in a cave.

“According to initial information given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred [killed] at the start of the operation by the terrorists responsible for the cave,” he said.

The minister said that 12 of the 13 appeared to have been shot in the head while the last was shot in the shoulder. Neither the identities of those killed nor details about their abduction were disclosed.

Information about the kidnapping had not been disclosed previously due to security concerns, Mr Akar said during a visit to the Turkish operation’s control centre near the Iraqi border.

Gara Mountain is about 50 kilometres north-east of the town of Duhok in the Kurdish Regional Governorate of Iraq.

The four-day military operation began with airstrikes and artillery shelling before commandos and ground troops moved in. Turkey says it killed 48 PKK fighters and captured two, while three Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded.

Turkey has been fighting the Kurdish militant group along its borders with Syria and Iraq for several decades. But in the past year, Turkey conducted several cross-border operations into northern Iraq despite protests from Baghdad.

Ankara labels the PKK a terrorist organisation because of its insurgency against the Turkish state and its desire for an independent nation on territory controlled by Ankara.

The US and the EU also consider the PKK to be a terrorist group.

Jotiar Adil, the spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government, told The National that Iraqi Kurdish authorities requested all parties to respect the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region and Iraq.

“The conflicts today in some areas in Kurdistan region have harmed KRG and the people of the Kurdistan region as hundreds of villages have been evacuated and they are empty now,” Mr Adil said.

Despite Iraq's protests, Turkey continues to carry out air and ground attacks in Iraqi areas where it believes the group is hiding.

Last June, Turkey launched Operation Claw-Tiger in the mountainous terrain of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

It has used warplanes, drones and special forces, and boasted about hitting hundreds of PKK targets, but gave few details.

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