Turkish fighter jets carried out a new barrage of cross-border airstrikes this week against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, killing at least 55 rebels, state-run Anatolia news agency reported Saturday.
The strikes by F-16 and F-4 jets targeted caves, houses and camps used by the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Anatolia said, citing unnamed security sources.
“At least 55 to 60 terrorists” were killed in the operation, which destroyed munitions depots, the report added.
Turkish security forces and the outlawed PKK have traded fire on a near daily basis since a two-year-old ceasefire fell apart in late July with Ankara’s launch of a two-pronged “anti-terror” offensive against Islamic State jihadists in Syria and the jihadists’ Kurdish foes.
The bulk of the government’s firepower has been reserved for airstrikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq or in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to which the rebels have responded with a string of bloody attacks on the security forces.
Around 150 soldiers and police have been killed in PKK bombings and shootings since the return to open conflict, compared with around 1,100 in the rebel camp, according to pro-government media.
The PKK does not give figures for its dead, making it impossible to confirm the government’s claims to be inflicting huge losses.
With the tit-for-tat attacks showing no sign of abating in the run up to November 1 parliamentary elections, the government has announced plans to boost a controversial pro-government “Village Guard” militia.
“Following instructions from our Prime Minister (Ahmet Davutoglu) we will advertise for 5,000 ‘village guardians’ in the press,” Interior Minister Selami Altinok was quoted by NTV broadcaster as saying.
Created towards the end of the 1980s to contain the PKK, the militia currently numbers around 70,000 men and women, who draw a government salary.
Human rights groups have repeatedly called for the force, which has been tainted by allegations of violent crime and drug smuggling, to be disbanded.
Of the around 5,000 militia members to have been implicated in wrongdoing, only 900 have faced legal action, according to official figures.
The battle between the state and PKK will take centre stage at an anti-terrorism rally in Istanbul Sunday to be addressed by Erdogan.
The president’s critics accuse him of reigniting a three-decade conflict with the PKK to curry nationalist support for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the upcoming election.
Some 40,000 people have died since the PKK took up arms in 1984 seeking an independent state for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. The rebels have since refocused their demands on securing greater autonomy and cultural rights.