21 Turkish Troops Killed As Clashes Escalate In Southeast Turkey

Turkish army tanks and military personal are stationed in Karkamis on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

At least 21 members of Turkish security services were killed in multiple clashes in southeastern Turkey on Saturday, resuming one of the bloodiest bout of violence since calm prevailed in the aftermath of a military coup attempt on July 15.

The Turkish army said in a statement that the military also killed or wounded over a hundred rebels fighting for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the “highest single-day casualty.”

The fiercest clashes took place in Cukurca district of Hakkari, long a hotbed for rebel activity, inflicting heavy casualties on both sides. The army said Turkish troops even fought face-to-face with rebels, despite air and artillery support. At least seven Turkish soldiers were killed and 21 wounded in the military operation.

The weekend flare of violence was one of the most significant escalations of the conflict since the collapse of a 2-½-year fragile truce last year. At least 700 members of Turkish security services were killed since last summer, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In Semdinli, another Hakkari district, PKK rebels attacked a Turkish military unit inspecting the highway, killing at least five and injuring six others.

In eastern province of Van, eight Turkish soldiers were killed in two-day clashes with the PKK. On Friday, four Turkish troops were killed in the area while four more were killed on Saturday. Another village guard was killed in a separate skirmish in the same province.

Lull in the fighting since the coup attempt on July 15 was interrupted following reports that Turkey has been fighting Syrian Kurdish militants in northeastern Aleppo. Cemil Bayik, leader of the PKK’s military wing, said on Saturday that Turkey must withdraw from northern Syria if it does not want the conflict in Turkey to escalate. Bayik’s remarks clearly illustrated how the recent spate of attacks on Turkish security services are related to the war next door.

As clashes in the southeastern Turkey continued, Turkey opened a new line of attack on Saturday by sending a number of tanks through the town of ar-Rai to support the rebels in their battle against ISIS. Turkish state-run news agency announced that Free Syrian Army, a loose umbrella group of moderate rebels, took control of at least 10 villages. Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of checking Kurdish advances on its border rather than genuinely fighting against ISIS.