Acting US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner has criticized Turkey for attacking Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq early on Tuesday and not coordinating the operation with the United States in advance.
The Turkish military carried out airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants near Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains and in northeastern Syria to prevent the group from sending weapons and explosives for attacks inside Turkey, the Turkish army announced on Tuesday.
According to Reuters, at least 20 were killed in the attacks, while a Turkish military statement said some 70 militants died in the operations inside the two neighboring countries.
“As a result of the barbaric strikes by the Turkish warplanes at dawn today against the YPG centre … 20 fighters were martyred and 18 others wounded, three of them critically,” said Redur Xelil, spokesman for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia in Syria and the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
A monitoring group, meanwhile, stated that five members of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militia were also slain in the strikes.
US officials are “deeply concerned” by the airstrikes and have raised the issue with the Turkish government, said Toner at a daily press briefing on Tuesday, adding that the airstrikes were not approved by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He also emphasized that coordination is necessary to protect coalition personnel serving in both Syria and Iraq.
Erdoğan: Russia and US informed beforehand
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, claimed on Tuesday that his country informed Russia, the US and northern Iraq before conducting the airstrikes against the PKK in Sinjar.
“We are obliged to take measures. We must take steps. We shared this with the US and Russia and we are sharing it with Iraq as well,” Erdoğan is reported as having said in an interview at the presidential palace in Ankara.
The two regions have become “terror hubs,” the Turkish army said, with the PKK frequently using these areas to channel militants, weapons, bombs and ammunition into Turkey.
“To destroy these terror hubs which threaten the security, unity and integrity of our country and our nation and as part of our rights based on international law, air strikes have been carried out … and terrorist targets have been successfully struck,” the Turkish army said in a statement.
The air bombardment was carried out around 2:00 a.m. (7 p.m. ET on Monday) local time, it added.
Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state for Kurdish autonomy. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.