Turkey reels after deadliest PKK attack in years
ISTANBUL - Turkey was in shock on Monday after reportedly the deadliest attack by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) against the army in years, with the military keeping a tight-lipped silence over the scale of the toll.
The army said PKK fighters killed and wounded several Turkish soldiers in a roadside bomb attack Sunday on two armoured vehicles in the Daglica area of the southeastern Hakkari region close to the border with northern Iraq.
But it unusually gave no precise toll, leading to frenzied speculation on the Internet about the magnitude of the attack.
Two Turkish F-4 and two F-16 warplanes were deployed to carry out strikes in a "heavy air campaign" against 13 targets controlled by the militants in retaliation, the army added.
The Hurriyet daily claimed at least 19 Turkish soldiers, including one lieutenant colonel, had been killed which, if confirmed, would make the attack by far the deadliest carried out by the PKK on the army in recent years.
It said that 400 kilogrammes of explosives had been used in the attack and some 150 PKK militants had taken part, leading to clashes that lasted some seven hours.
"Turkey is in mourning," said the newspaper.
In a sign of the gravity of the strike, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu broke off a trip to central Turkey Sunday to watch a national football game and summoned an emergency midnight security meeting in Ankara.
Many "terrorists" were killed in the retaliatory air strikes, the official Anatolia news agency said, without giving a precise toll.
The PKK claimed the attack as an "act of sabotage" in a statement on the website of its military wing, the People's Defence Forces (HPG).
The group, which is known for sometimes exaggerating tolls of attacks on the security forces, said 15 soldiers had been killed.
The PKK has been staging daily attacks against the armed forces as the military presses a relentless operation against the group in southeast Turkey and northern Iraq that began in late July.
The violence has left in tatters a 2013 ceasefire aimed at assisting the search for a final peace deal to end the PKK's three-decade insurgency, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The PKK initially took up arms in 1984 with the aim of establishing an independent state for Turkey's Kurdish minority, although lately the demands focused on greater autonomy and rights.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement he "strongly condemned the atrocious attack that caused the martyrdom and injuries of our soldiers."
Turkey has been on heightened alert since Ankara launched a two-pronged offensive to bomb Islamic State militants in Syria and PKK rebels in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey.
Earlier Sunday, two police were killed in an attack in Sur district of the southeastern city of Diyarbakir that was attributed to the PKK, security sources said.
Before the latest attacks, some 70 members of the security forces had been killed since July in attacks blamed on the PKK, while official media have claimed that at least 967 militants have been killed.
The unrest comes at a explosive time in Turkey as the country prepares to hold snap elections on November 1 following June polls where Erdogan's ruling party lost its overall majority.
Riot police were called to disperse some 150 protesters who attacked the office of the Hurriyet daily in Istanbul's Bagcilar district, accusing the newspaper of misquoting an Erdogan TV interview.
Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) curtailed a visit to Germany to fly back to Turkey in the wake of the Daglica attack and reports of a deadly Turkish military operation in nearby Cizre.
"Instead of spitting out hatred, we have to find a way out together from this disaster that is looming," he tweeted.
The Turkish lira, already battered the by political and security instability, fell to a new low in value against the dollar of 3.04, a loss in value of 0.97 percent on the day.