Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurds in northern Iraq overnight, as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed the terrorist who carried out Wednesday’s deadly bomb attack in Ankara was linked to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, a vital U.S. ally in the war against the Islamic State.
USA Today cites Turkish media reporting there were casualties from the airstrikes in Iraq, but no specifics have been provided yet. CNN quotes the Turkish military saying it was targeting “top figures” from the Kurdish PKK separatist group with its airstrikes.
Davutoglu gave a televised speech Wednesday evening in which he declared, “Yesterday’s attack was directly targeting Turkey and the perpetrator is the YPG and the divisive terrorist organization PKK. All necessary measures will be taken against them.” Reuters reports the airstrikes in Iraq were conducted within hours of this address.
Davutoglu also named the Ankara bomber as Saleh Najar, who he described as a Syrian-born member of the YPG who “infiltrated from Syria with members of the separatist terror organization,” meaning the PKK. Davutoglu claimed Najar also had ties to Syrian intelligence, and accused the Assad regime of involvement in the bombing.
The Prime Minister claimed the Ankara attack was proof of its contention that the YPG is a terrorist organization, and said Turkey would expect help from its NATO allies to fight them. The United States does not classify the YPG as terrorists, instead relying on them as front-line ground forces against the Islamic State.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also implicated the YPG in the Ankara attack, and announced 14 arrests have been made by Turkish police in connection with the bombing.
YPG chief Saleh Muslim denied his group was involved with the attack. “We are completely refuting that… Davutoglu is preparing for something else because they are shelling us as you know for the past week,” he told Reuters.
The PKK has also denied responsibility, suggesting it could have been the work of ISIS, or possibly other groups responding to “massacres in Kurdistan,” as PKK leader Cemil Bayik put it.
Saleh Muslim also implicated ISIS. “Kurds have nothing to do with what happened in Ankara. What happened there is related to Turkey’s fight with Islamic State, whose members live in Turkey,” he said, as quoted by Russia’s RT.com.
Reuters notes that Turkey is “alarmed” by the YPG seizing ground north of Aleppo, possibly the decisive battleground in the Syrian civil war, from defeated rebel forces as Syrian and Iranian troops backed by Russian air power push through the region.
Turkey, fearing the YPG’s success could motivate Kurdish separatists across the border in Turkey, has been increasingly forceful in demanding the Kurds vacate the area, punctuating the demand with artillery fire, and allowing battered rebel forces to regroup on Turkish soil before re-entering Syria to fight the Kurds.
The Turks claim their artillery barrages are a response to hostile fire coming across the border from YPG positions in Syria, which Saleh Muslim also denied. Davutoglu said Turkish artillery fire would continue until the Kurds vacate the area.
Davutoglu also had words for Russia, which is conducting airstrikes on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria, and has entered a state of high tension with Turkey.
“I’d like to warn Russia, which is giving air support to the YPG in its advance on Azaz, not to use this terrorist group against the innocent people of Syria and Turkey,” he said, referring to the area Syrian Kurdish troops are approaching.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the Ankara attack “in the strongest possible terms.”
As Turkey was conducting its airstrikes in Iraq, a roadside bomb killed six soldiers and wounded one other in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir, where Turkish government troops have been fighting the PKK. The Daily Sabah reported this remote-control bomb was the work of the PKK, without citing further evidence for the assertion.