Turkey Forced to Deny Civilian Targeting in Increasingly Controversial Kurdish Airstrikes

The Associated Press

The Turkish government has denied that it has targeted civilians in its airstrikes against the Islamic State and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria and Iraq. Kurdish officials in both the PKK and Iraqi Kurdistan have condemned the deaths of civilians in Turkish attacks.

“The targets in northern Iraq and inside Turkey are being identified by qualified personnel, based on confirmed visual data and as a result of a very meticilous and detailed study,” the Turkish military said in a statement Monday. The statement followed accusations that Turkish airstrikes have targeted civilians near the Zergele Camp, an area believed to be use for training by the PKK. The PKK is a Marxist organization designated as a terrorist group by both the United States and Turkey, which Turkey considers as great a threat to its sovereignty as the Islamic State.

“News reports about civilian casualties – in addition to PKK losses – during the air operation on the Zergele Camp, which the PKK terrorist organization uses for logistic and coordination purposes, have been received with sorrow,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç responded to the news with less nuance, calling the claims of civilian deaths “a despicable lie of the PKK terrorist organization.”

The Turkish government began airstrikes in Syria following a terrorist attack in the border town of Suruç, believed to have been orchestrated by the Islamic State. While Turkey insisted its military campaign would focus on creating an “anti-ISIL zone” in central Syria, it has in practice focused more on targeting PKK-controlled areas, even leaving the designated area in Syria to attack PKK targets in Iraq. This has resulted in several claims that Turkish airstrikes have killed civilians in Iraq, with one notably claiming the airstrikes targeted a local health clinic.

The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, which stridently opposes the PKK, has nonetheless accepted the civilian casualty claims as true and correspondingly condemned the Turkish government. “We condemn the bombing, which led to the martyrdom of the citizens of the Kurdish region, and we call on Turkey not to repeat the bombing of civilians,” the KRG said in a statement. The statement also, however, called for the PKK to leave Iraq entirely so as to not put Kurdish civilians in the line of fire.

While the United States has vowed to work with Turkey against the Islamic State, and the Turkish government finally gave American military officials permission to use Turkish territory to plan airstrikes in Syria, American planes have not yet flown missions there. The Pentagon did confirm over the weekend that American armed drones had begun flying out of Turkey into Syria targeting ISIS, but no strikes had yet begun.