TIME Turkey

These 5 Stats Explain Turkey’s War on ISIS—and the Kurds

Turkey enters the battle against ISIS, but it's real target seems to be the Kurds

On the heels of a major suicide bombing in the border town of Suruç a couple weeks ago, Turkey has officially joined the war against ISIS—though it’s not clear what it actually aims to achieve. Turkey and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan were riding high just a few years ago, with a strong economy and a growing international profile. Now the country’s economy is tumbling, and its politics are fragmenting. These 5 facts explain Turkey’s various motivations for going to war. Be warned—they’re complicated.

1. A Faltering Economy

Until recently, Turkey was an emerging market darling. In 2010, its economy was growing at a robust 9.2 percent. But by 2013, GDP growth had fallen to 4.1 percent. The slowdown has continued, and growth for 2015 is now forecast at 3.1 percent, which may actually be a generous estimate. Unemployment in the country has reached 11 percent, the highest rate in 5 years.

It’s not clear that joining the fight against ISIS will directly help Turkey’s economy. In fact, it probably won’t—fighting wars, especially open-ended ones, cost money. But it will distract a populace that’s growing increasingly unsettled by the economy’s slowdown.

(IMF World Economic Outlook, Bloomberg, Global Peace Index)

2. Stumbling AKP

The slowing economy has also upended the country’s politics. Turkey was a secular Muslim country for nearly a century until 2002, when Erdogan’s Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) rose to power. It went on to win four consecutive elections, peaking at 49.9 percent in 2011, while presiding over a booming economy. Since then Erdogan has seen his personal popularity plunge from 71 percent to 37.5 percent today. Support for the AKP dropped nearly 10 percent in elections this past June, and the party lost an absolute legislative majority it had enjoyed for 13 years. Who capitalized on the AKP’s poor election performance? The pro-Kurdish HDP, which entered parliament for the first time by capturing 13 percent of the vote. (Political parties must win at least 10 percent of the vote in Turkey in order to enter the legislature.)

Now the AKP must choose between inviting an opposition party to join a coalition government or calling early elections to try to regain its majority. Joining the ISIS war effort serves two political aims: it tarnishes the HDP by associating the party with Kurdish separatist groups accused of terrorism, and it drums up enough nationalist sentiment to peel off votes from the far-right Nationalist Movement Pary. Erdogan will watch the polls. If the AKP’s numbers rise toward 50 percent, he’s likely to push for another vote.

(Brookings, Guardian, Al-Jazeera, Reuters)

3. Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Turkey is currently providing shelter for nearly 2 million Syrian refugees, and that figure is projected to rise another 500,000 by the end of 2015. Put another way, more than half of the 4 million Syrians who have fled their country during the civil war now reside in Turkey. Ankara has established 25 refugee camps, and reports say they are relatively well-run. The problem is the cost—Ankara estimates that it has spent nearly $5.6 billion on refugees since the beginning of the crisis. Combined with its flagging economy, it is not clear how much longer Turkey can continue shouldering the burden. The sooner the fighting in Syria ends, the sooner these refugees can return home.

(European Commission, UNHCR, Al-Jazeera)

4. Violent History with the PKK

Now things start to get murky. On July 20, an ISIS suicide bomb ripped through the Turkish town of Suruç, killing 32 people. The victims were supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdish separatist party based in Turkey and affiliated with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish group currently battling ISIS in Syria. After the Suruç attack, some Turks blamed the AKP government for not protecting the country against terrorism, while Turkish Kurds have accused the government of being complicit in the attacks. They claim that Erdogan’s government has tolerated ISIS attacks on Kurds because ISIS militants threaten Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Turkey’s enemy, and also prevent Kurds from gaining ground in Syria that might help them to eventually create a larger Kurdish homeland in the region.

Erdogan may have declared war on ISIS to blunt criticism that he is soft on terrorism, but this bombing really speaks to the long strained relationship between Turks and Kurds. The Kurds are a sizeable ethnic minority in the region that have been agitating for independence for decades. The last 40 years have been marred by Turkish-Kurdish violence, claiming the lives of 40,000 people. A ceasefire was reached in March 2013, but it didn’t last long. According to Turkish security authorities, the PKK has carried out over 2,000 acts of violence in 2015 alone.

(Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Middle East Monitor)

5. A War Against…Whom?

It’s obvious that Ankara is alarmed by the progress Kurdish fighters in Syria are making against ISIS and Assad, which they fear will only stoke the independence dreams of Turkish Kurds. In response to the Suruç bombing, Turkish police launched security raids across the country, rounding up more than 1,300 suspects in a matter of days. But the number of PKK militants detained outnumber ISIS affiliates more than 6 to 1. Between July 23 and July 26, 75 Turkish jets flew 155 sorties against 400 or so PKK targets. Number of ISIS targets hit? Three.

Officially joining the war against ISIS will give Turkey the cover it needs to bomb the Kurdish separatists carving out territories along the Turkish border. And it seems Washington is willing to ignore attacks on Kurds in exchange for US access to the Incirlik airbase, useful for bombing ISIS inside Iraq. Only time will tell if Turkey and America’s political and military strategies will pay off.

(Reuters, The Independent, Al-Monitor, New York Times)

TIME Turkey

Kurdish Rebels Attack Government Lodgings in Turkey

Turkey Syria Islamic State
Lefteris Pitarakis—AP A flag of the Kurdish People's Protection Units flies over the city of Tal Abyad, Syria, on June 16, 2015

No one was hurt

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says Kurdish rebels have attacked police and judicial officials’ lodgings with rockets in a further escalation of violence between the government and the insurgents.

Turkey’s parliament is set on Wednesday to hold an extraordinary session — possibly behind closed doors — to discuss the attacks by rebels and the Islamic State group, and Turkey’s response.

The Anadolu Agency says militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, fired at buildings in Hakkari province, near Turkey’s border with Iraq, late on Tuesday. No one was hurt.

Turkish jets have been pounding rebel positions in northern Iraq and in southeast Turkey after the rebels claimed responsibility of killing two policemen last week. Turkish jets have also attacked Islamic State group extremists in Syria.

TIME conflict

Fighting Between Turkey and Kurds Escalates Amid NATO Tension

A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane takes off from the Incirlik Air Base, in the outskirts Adana, south-eastern Turkey on July 28, 2015.
Emrah Gurel—AP A missile-loaded Turkish Air Force warplane takes off from the Incirlik Air Base, in the outskirts Adana, south-eastern Turkey on July 28, 2015.

NATO members have shown support for Turkey, but urged the country to refrain from using excessive force

(ISTANBUL) — Fighting between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels escalated Tuesday amid signs of unease from NATO allies attending an emergency meeting about Turkey’s conflicts with the Islamic State group and the Kurds.

On a violent day, Turkish fighter jets pounded rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK after soldiers were fired on with heavy weaponry in Sirnak province, according to a military statement. Turkish soldiers also came under attack in two other incidents.

Meanwhile, NATO allies met in a rare emergency meeting at Turkey’s request and proclaimed “strong solidarity” with the country’s fight against the Islamic State group.

“The security of the alliance is indivisible,” ambassadors from all 28 NATO nations declared in a joint statement after the meeting.

But a NATO official said members also used the closed-door meeting to call on Turkey not to use excessive force in reaction to terror attacks, while urging it to continue peace efforts with representatives of the Kurdish minority. The official was not authorized to speak on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The special session of the alliance’s main political decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, was held at Turkey’s request under a clause of NATO’s founding treaty that empowers member countries to seek consultations if they believe their security, territorial integrity or political independence is at risk.

It was called after Turkish warplanes last week started striking militant targets in Syria in response to an Islamic State group suicide bombing in southern Turkey that left 32 people dead, and another IS attack on Turkish forces, which killed a soldier.

But in a series of cross-border strikes, Turkey has also targeted Kurdish fighters affiliated with forces battling IS in Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian Kurds have been among the most effective ground forces in the fight against IS and have been backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, but Turkey fears a revival of the Kurdish insurgency in pursuit of an independent state.

The spike in violence in recent days has prompted concerns that a promising peace process between Turkey and Kurdish rebels is falling beyond repair.

German diplomats said Tuesday it would be a mistake for Turkey to break off the peace process with the PKK now.

“We believe that it’s right to continue the process of rapprochement and to build on the positive steps of the past years,” a diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

As the ambassadors were gathering at NATO headquarters, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara that it was impossible to advance a peace process with the Kurds as long as attacks on Turkey continue.

The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language living in a region spanning present-day Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.

In the past few days, the PKK has launched a number of attacks on Turkish security forces and Turkish jets have targeted both the PKK’s mountainous headquarters in Iraq and Kurdish fighters in a Syrian village, a Kurdish militia and an activist group said.

On Tuesday, a Turkish soldier died after he was shot in the head by a Kurdish militant near the border with Iraq, Turkey said. In a second incident in Sirnak province, suspected PKK rebels hurled a bomb at a military vehicle, wounding one soldier, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The developments follow a decision last week by Turkey’s leaders to allow the U.S. to launch its own strikes against the Islamic State group from its strategically located Incirlik Air Base.

Erdogan told reporters in Ankara that Turkish and U.S. officials were also discussing creation of a safe zone near Turkey’s border with Syria, which would be cleared of IS presence and turned into a secure area for Syrian refugees to return.

Asked for his opinion, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said “NATO is not part of these efforts. This is something that is discussed on a bilateral basis between Turkey and the United States.”

Stoltenberg said the Turks did not use the meeting Tuesday to request military assistance from other NATO members.

“What we all know is that Turkey is a staunch ally, Turkey has very capable armed forces — the second largest army within the alliance,” the NATO chief told reporters after the session, which was the fifth such meeting in the alliance’s 66-year history and lasted a little over an hour.

The alliance official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Turkey’s allies unanimously spoke at the meeting in favor of its “right to defend itself.” One outside analyst said eliciting such support may have been why Turkey sought the unusual forum in the first place.

“I think the main purpose is to give them some reassurance in terms of their bombing campaign in Syria and northern Iraq so that they won’t be accused of violating international law,” said Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst and specialist on Turkey at the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank. “They wanted to cover their backs basically by having NATO say, ‘OK it’s fine.'”

For some NATO members and independent observers, it’s unclear whether Turkey’s No. 1 target in the recent attacks is the Islamic State group or the Kurds, said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank.

“There is no difference between PKK and Daesh,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday, using an Arabic acronym to refer to IS.

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Dahlburg reported from Brussels. Mark D. Carlson in Brussels, Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

 

TIME Turkey

An Explosion Has Shut Down the Iran-Turkey Natural Gas Pipeline

The fire was quickly brought under control

(ANKARA, Turkey) — Turkey’s energy minister says an explosion on a natural gas pipeline between Iran and Turkey caused a large fire and shut down the flow of gas.

Taner Yildiz said Tuesday the explosion was in Agri province, some 15 kilometers from the Iranian border, and he suggested Kurdish rebels were to blame. He said the fire was quickly brought under control.

The attack late Monday comes amid a spike in violence in recent weeks. Turkey last week launched raids against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq — at the same time that it began cracking down on the Islamic State group — ending a fragile cease-fire with the Kurds.

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has attacked pipelines in the past as part of its armed campaign for autonomy.

TIME Military

U.S. Prepares to Fly Deeper into Syrian Civil War

Operation Northern Watch Enforces No-Fly Zone
Air Force / Getty Images A U.S. Air Force F-16 leaves a Turkish base in 2002 for a mission over Iraq. Soon they are likely to be flying similar assignments over Syria.

ISIS is the target, but U.S. pilots could also be at risk

The U.S. flew “no-fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq for more than a decade before the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. U.S. warplanes kept Iraqi aircraft out of the sky, and targeted Iraqi air-defense systems that threatened to shoot. Now, along with neighboring Turkey, the U.S. is planning to launch something similar over a stretch of northern Syria.

Eliminating Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria along a strip of the Syrian-Turkish border is the key goal, opening up a safe haven for tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by the country’s four-year-old civil war that has killed more than 200,000. Whether the move hastens the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad—or leads to the shootdown and possible capture or death of an American pilot—remains unknowable.

Institute for the Study of WarThe striped section of the map is the proposed “no-ISIS zone.”

U.S. officials stressed Monday that Washington and Ankara are planning to step up bombing of ISIS targets on the ground, and not create a formal no-fly zone, which would bar Syrian warplanes from bombing runs. “It’s not a no-fly zone—it’s a bombing campaign,” says retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, who oversaw the Iraqi no-fly zones as chief of U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000. He doesn’t think such a bombing campaign will have much effect. “We see how well a year of bombing has worked in Iraq,” where ISIS remains in control of much of the western part of the nation.

The chance of clashes between Syria and U.S. and Turkish aircraft will be more likely once details of the new zone are hammered out and stepped-up U.S.-Turkish attacks on ISIS targets begin. “I think they’ll tell the Syrians to just stay out of the air space,” Zinni says of U.S. and Turkish commanders. “They’ll issue a demarche: ‘If you shoot any air defense weapons at us, we’ll nail you.’ That’s what we did to the Iraqis.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Syrians aren’t challenging U.S. warplanes. “There is no opposition in the air when coalition aircraft are flying in that part of Syria,” he said. “The Assad regime is not challenging us; [ISIS] doesn’t have airplanes … they’re not being shot at.”

But that’s hardly a guarantee. U.S. commanders will ensure their flight crew fly high and well clear of any known Syrian air-defense threats to minimize the chance of a U.S. pilot being shot down and—in the worst case—falling into ISIS’s hands and murdered. But accidents and snafus can occasionally happen. “We never even had a plane scratched,” Zinni says of the more than 200,000 U.S. flights in the Iraqi no-fly zones from 1992 to 2003. “It was absolutely remarkable.” (Unfortunately, this record was marred by the 1994 shootdown of two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters, killing all 26 aboard, by a pair of U.S. Air Force F-15s.)

Conflicting loyalties and priorities complicate the more aggressive campaign. Last week, after a suicide bombing blamed on ISIS killed 30 in a Turkish border town, Turkey began flying air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, and gave the U.S. long-sought permission to launch air strikes from Turkish bases. Turkey, a NATO ally, is growing increasingly concerned with ISIS on its doorstep, the growing refugee problem, and military successes by its Kurdish minority, some elements of which are seeking their own state.

Kurdish forces control most of the Syrian-Turkish frontier, and the Turkish government views them as a threat much like ISIS. Ankara is also more interested in toppling Assad than battling ISIS. “If there is one person who is responsible for all these terrorist crimes and humanitarian tragedies in Syria, it is Assad’s approach, using chemical weapons, barrel bombs against civilians,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told CNN. His government has called for a NATO meeting Tuesday to discuss the ISIS fight.

U.S. and Turkish air power are expected to be used to reinforce Syrian rebels on the ground who are battling ISIS, creating a 68-mile “no-ISIS zone” along the Syrian-Turkish border. “Moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army will be strengthened…so they can take control of areas freed from [ISIS], air cover will be provided,” Davutoglu told Turkey’s A Haber television news channel.. “It would be impossible for them to take control of the area without it.”

U.S. officials have been complaining since the Pentagon began bombing ISIS targets a year ago of a dearth of reliable partners on the ground, in both Iraq and Syria. ISIS drove the U.S.-trained Iraqi army out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, a year ago, and the U.S. has trained only about 60 Syrian rebels to fight ISIS’s 30,000-strong force.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Carries Out Strikes Against ISIS and Kurdish Targets

Kurds Turkey ISIS Airstrikes
Wael Hamzeh—EPA Supporters of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) living in Lebanon flash the V-sign during a protest against the Turkish air force attacks on the PKK military campaigns in Syria and northern Iraq, in front of the United Nation (ESCWA) in Beirut on July 26, 2015.

Four Kurdish fighters were allegedly wounded

(BEIRUT) —Turkish troops have shelled a Syrian village near the border, targeting Kurdish fighters who have been battling the Islamic State group with the aid of U.S.-led airstrikes, Syria’s main Kurdish militia and an activist group said Monday.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, said the Sunday night shelling on the border village of Til Findire targeted one of their vehicles. It said Til Findire is east of the border town of Kobani, where the Kurds handed a major defeat to the Islamic State group earlier this year.

In cross-border strikes since Friday, Turkey has targeted both Kurdish fighters as well as the IS group, stepping up its involvement in Syria’s increasingly complex civil war. The Syrian Kurds are among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group, but Turkey fears they could revive an insurgency against Ankara in pursuit of an independent state.

On Monday the YPG and Syrian rebels captured the town of Sareen in northern Syria, which had been held by the Islamic State group, according to The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Aleppo Media Center in Syria, two activist groups that track the civil war.

A Turkish official said Turkish forces are only targeting the IS group in Syria and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in neighboring Iraq.

The official said the “ongoing military operation seeks to neutralize imminent threats to Turkey’s national security and continues to target ISIS in Syria and the PKK in Iraq.”

“The PYD, along with others, remains outside the scope of the current military effort,” the official said, referring to the political arm of the YPG.

The official added that authorities were “investigating claims that the Turkish military engaged positions held by forces other than ISIS.”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without authorization.

The YPG did not say in its Monday statement whether there were casualties in the shelling.

The YPG said Turkey first shelled Til Findire on Friday, wounding four fighters of the rebel Free Syrian Army and several local villagers. It urged Turkey to “halt this aggression and to follow international guidelines.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said four fighters were wounded in the village of Zor Maghar, which is also close to the Turkish border. Conflicting reports are common in the aftermath of violent incidents.

Earlier this month, Syria’s main Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, warned Turkey that any military intervention would threaten international peace and said its armed wing, the YPG, would face any “aggression.”

Turkish police meanwhile raided homes in a neighborhood in the capital on Monday, detaining at least 15 people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, the state-run news agency said.

The Anadolu Agency said those detained in Ankara’s Haci Bayram neighborhood include a number of foreign nationals. It did not give details of the foreigners’ home countries.

Turkey has been carrying out airstrikes against IS targets in Syria and Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq. It has also arrested hundreds of people with suspected links to violent extremists.

On Sunday, it called for a meeting of its NATO allies to discuss threats to its security, as well as its airstrikes.

In comments published Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey and the United States had no plans to send ground troops into Syria but said they had agreed to provide air cover to moderate Syrian fighters.

“If we are not going to send land units to the ground — and we will not — then those forces acting as ground forces cooperating with us should be protected,” Davutoglu told a group of senior journalists over the weekend. His comments were published in Hurriyet newspaper.

Davutoglu also said Turkey wanted to clear its border of IS extremists.

“We don’t want to see Daesh at our border,” Hurriyet quoted Davutoglu as saying, using the Arabic acronym of the group. “We want to see the moderate opposition take its place.”

The Turkish leader also said Turkey’s action against the IS has “changed the regional game.”

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Frazer reported from Ankara, Turkey.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Calls For NATO Meeting to Discuss Security Threats

Mevlut Cavusoglu
Burhan Ozbilici—AP Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media in Ankara, about latest airstrikes against Islamic State group forces and Kurdish rebel bases, on July 25, 2015.

Turkey recently agreed to let the U.S. launch anti-ISIS attacks from a military base in the country

(ANKARA, Turkey)—Turkey on Sunday called for a meeting of its NATO allies to discuss threats to its security and its airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants in Syria and Kurdish rebels in Iraq.

The move came as Turkey’s state-run media reported that Turkish F-16 jets again took off from the country’s southeastern Diyarbakir air base to hit Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK targets across the border in northern Iraq.

There was no immediate confirmation of the report by TRT television, which came hours after authorities said PKK militants detonated a car-bomb near Diyarbakir, killing two soldiers and wounding four others.

NATO announced that its decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, will convene Tuesday after Ankara invoked the alliance’s Article 4, which allows member states to request a meeting if they feel their territorial integrity or security is under threat.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Turkey would inform allies about the airstrikes which followed an IS suicide bombing near Turkey’s border with Syria that left 32 people dead, and an IS attack on Turkish forces, which killed a soldier.

Turkey requested the meeting, which includes ambassadors of all 28 member countries, “in view of the seriousness of the situation after the heinous terrorist attacks in recent days,” NATO said.

NATO itself is not involved in operations against the Islamic State group, although many of its members are. As an alliance, however, NATO is committed to helping defend Turkey.

Turkey has simultaneously bombed Islamic State group positions near its border with Syria and Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq. It has also carried out widespread police operations against suspected Kurdish and IS militants and other outlawed groups inside Turkey. Hundreds of people have been detained.

Tensions flared with the Kurds following the IS suicide bombing, as Kurdish groups blamed the government for not doing enough to prevent IS operations. On Wednesday, PKK claimed responsibility for the killing of two policemen in the Kurdish majority city of Sanliurfa.

PKK has said Turkey’s airstrikes likely spell the end of a cease-fire announced in 2013.

The PKK has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language living in a region spanning present-day Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia.

The car bomb exploded on a road in the town of Lice as a vehicle carrying military police officers was traveling to intervene against Kurds who had blocked a main intersection and set cars on fire. The military said a large-scale operation was underway to capture the attackers.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed support for Turkey’s efforts against terrorism, including the IS group, in a telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu but also urged Turkey to keep the peace process with the Kurds “alive and on track.”

Similarly, the German government said Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone Sunday with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and assured him of “Germany’s solidarity and support in the fight against terrorism.”

She also “appealed not to give up the peace process with the Kurds, but to stick to it despite all the difficulties,” a government statement said.

A statement from Davutoglu’s office said the Turkish leader for his part, told Merkel that Turkey would take all measures needed to fight terrorism and would resume cross border raids when deemed necessary while continuing “to take steps toward a (Kurdish) settlement and democratization.”

Late Saturday, the White House said Turkey has the right to defend itself against attacks by Kurdish rebels. Spokesman Alistair Baskey strongly condemned recent attacks by the PKK, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist group, and said the PKK should renounce terrorism and resume talks with Turkey’s government.

But Baskey also said both sides should avoid violence and pursue de-escalation.

Authorities banned a peace rally, scheduled for Sunday in Istanbul to denounce this week’s suicide bombing, on grounds that it may be used by outlawed groups for “provocative” acts. Organizers instead read out a brief statement to a crowd of some 1,000 who dispersed peacefully.

In another Istanbul neighborhood, police clashed with demonstrators protesting the death Friday of a woman suspected of being a member of the outlawed leftist DHKP-C. Officials said the woman was killed in a gunbattle with police during the government crackdown on terror groups.

Protesters hurled bottles, rocks and firebombs at police and a policeman died in hospital after being shot as he entered a building to arrest some of the demonstrators, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

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Associated Press writers John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Josh Lederman and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Turkey

Car Bomb Kills 2 Soldiers in Turkey

Mevlut Cavusoglu turkey airstrikes
Burhan Ozbilici—AP Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to the media in Ankara on July 25, 2015, about the latest airstrikes against Islamic State group forces and Kurdish rebel bases.

The attack was in a largely Kurdish part of the country

(ANKARA, Turkey) — A car bomb struck a military vehicle in southeast Turkey, killing two soldiers and wounding four others in an attack blamed on Kurdish rebels, authorities said Sunday, a day after Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurdish insurgents in northern Iraq.

The Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has said the airstrikes likely spelled the end of a cease-fire announced in 2013. Turkey has simultaneously bombed Islamic State positions near the Turkish border in Syria and carried out widespread police operations against suspected Kurdish and IS militants and other outlawed groups inside Turkey. Hundreds of people have been detained.

The private Dogan news agency said that Turkish artillery based near the southeastern border town of Semdinli shelled PKK targets across the frontier in northern Iraq for three hours early Sunday. There was no official confirmation of the report.

The car bomb exploded late Saturday on a road in the town of Lice as a vehicle carrying military police officers was traveling to intervene against Kurds who had blocked a main intersection and set cars on fire, said the governor’s office in Diyarbakir, a mainly Kurdish province.

The military said the PKK militants also detonated a roadside bomb and fired on the troops in the attack it called a “treacherously pre-planned” ambush. The military statement said a large-scale operation was underway to capture the attackers.

Assailants also opened fire at police stations in the southeastern cities of Diyarbakir, Siirt and Mardin, Turkish media reported. No one was injured in the attacks.

The PKK has fought Turkey for autonomy for Kurds in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.

On Saturday, Turkish fighter jets struck Kurdish rebel shelters and storage facilities across the border in northern Iraq, its first such strikes since the peace process with the Kurds was launched in 2012. A cease-fire was announced the following year.

Tensions have been flaring with the Kurds in recent days following an IS suicide bombing in a town near the border with Syria. Kurdish groups have blamed the government for not doing enough to prevent IS operations. On Wednesday, the PKK claimed responsibility for the killing of two policemen in the Kurdish majority city of Sanliurfa.

Late Saturday, the White House said Turkey has the right to defend itself against attacks by Kurdish rebels. Spokesman Alistair Baskey strongly condemned recent attacks by the PKK, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist group, and said the PKK should renounce terrorism and resume talks with Turkey’s government.

But Baskey also said both sides should avoid violence and pursue de-escalation.

Meanwhile, a deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said Sunday that Washington welcomed Turkey’s “increased focus and accelerated efforts” against IS militants.

Authorities banned a peace rally, scheduled for Sunday in Istanbul to denounce this week’s suicide bombing, on grounds that it may be used by outlawed groups for “provocative” acts. Organizers canceled the rally and said they would read out a brief statement instead.

In another Istanbul neighborhood, police clashed with demonstrators protesting the death Friday of a woman suspected of being a member of the outlawed leftist DHKP-C. Protesters hurled bottles, rocks and firebombs at police. Officials said the woman was killed in a gunbattle with police during the government crackdown on terror groups.

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Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Strikes Kurds in Iraq and ISIS in Syria

Ahmet Davutoglu turkish military action
AP Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks to the media in Ankara on July 24, 2015.

"Turkey has basically ended the cease-fire"

(ANKARA, Turkey)—Turkish jets struck camps belonging to Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, authorities said Saturday, the first strikes since a peace deal was announced in 2013, and again bombed Islamic State positions in Syria.

The strikes in Iraq targeted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, whose affiliates have been effective in battling the Islamic State group. The strikes further complicate the U.S.-led war against the extremists, which has relied on Kurdish ground forces making gains in Iraq and Syria.

A spokesman in Iraq for the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for autonomy since 1984 and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and its allies, said the strikes likely spelled the end of the peace process.

“Turkey has basically ended the cease-fire,” Zagros Hiwa told The Associated Press. He said the first wave of strikes launched overnight didn’t appear to cause casualties.

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party, the People’s Democratic Party, said the strikes amounted to an end of the two-year-old truce. It called on the government to end the bombing campaign and resume a dialogue with the Kurds.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced later on Saturday that he had ordered “a third wave” of raids against the IS in Syria and a “second wave” of strikes against the PKK in northern Iraq, but didn’t provide details on areas hit. He said the operations would continue.

“Turkey’s operations will, if needed, continue until the terror organizations’ command centers, all locations where they plan (attacks) against Turkey and all depots used to store arms to be used against Turkey are destroyed,” Davutoglu said, as he headed for a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s military chief.

He accused the PKK of not keeping a pledge to withdraw armed fighters from Turkish territory and to disarm.

The government statement earlier said the first strikes targeted seven areas including the Qandil mountains, where the PKK’s command is based. The statement did not detail Islamic State targets but described the airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq as being “effective.”

Hiwa said the jets struck villages on Qandil although the PKK base was not hit.

Turkey’s military also shelled Islamic State and PKK positions in Syria from across the Turkish border, the government said. It vowed to press ahead with operations against the PKK and IS, saying it was “determined to take all steps to ensure peace and security for our people.”

Turkish police meanwhile proceeded with a major operation against the Islamic State, the PKK and the far-left DHKP-C for a second day. Close to 600 people were detained in raids in 22 provinces, Davutoglu said.

Tensions flared with Kurds after an Islamic State suicide bombing in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc on Monday killed 32 people. Kurdish groups held the Turkish government responsible, saying it had not been aggressive in battling the Islamic State group.

On Wednesday, the PKK claimed responsibility for killing two Turkish police officers near the Kurdish majority city of Sanliurfa, near the Syrian border.

In other attacks, seven police officers were wounded after suspected PKK militants hurled a small bomb at a police station in Bismil, near the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, the Dogan news agency reported Friday. Another small bomb was thrown at officers in a police vehicle in Semdinli, near the border with Iraq, the agency said.

On Friday, Turkey announced that it was allowing its air bases to be used by the U.S.-led coalition forces for operations against Islamic State extremists.

Turkey had been reluctant to join U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State group. It had long insisted that coalition operations should also target Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which Ankara blames for all ills in Syria, and it also pressed for the establishment of a no-fly zone inside Syria, along the Turkish border.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Saturday did not confirm Turkish news reports that claimed that the United States and Turkey had agreed to establish a secure area in Syria, saying safe zones would be automatically formed in Iraq and Syria once the IS threat disappears.

“At the end of this efficient fight against IS, areas that have been cleared of IS (militants) will become safe zones,” Cavusoglu said.

On Friday, three F-16 jets struck Islamic State targets that included two command centers and a gathering point near the Turkish border in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine Islamic State militants were killed in the raids. The extremists have yet to comment on the strikes.

The Syrian government has so far refrained from commenting on Turkish strikes inside Syrian territory, but Syria’s main political opposition group, which is backed by Ankara, welcomed Turkey’s move.

TIME Middle East

Turkey Strikes ISIS After Allowing U.S. to Use Its Bases

Ahmet Davutoglu
Hakan Goktepe—AP In this July 23, 2015 photo, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, center, his ministers, military commanders and intelligence officials gather during a security meeting in Ankara, Turkey, hours before warplanes struck ISIS targets across the border in Syria

Jets hit ISIS bases in Syria as police round up scores of suspects in raids

(ANKARA, Turkey) —Turkish warplanes struck Islamic State group targets across the border in Syria on Friday, government officials said, a day after IS militants fired at a Turkish military outpost, killing a soldier.

The bombing is a strong tactical shift for Turkey which had long been reluctant to join the U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group.

A government official said three F-16 jets took off from Diyarbakir airbase in southeast Turkey early Friday and used smart bombs to hit three IS targets across the Turkish border province of Kilis. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of government rules requiring authorization for comment, said the targets were two command centers and a gathering point of IS supporters.

The private Dogan news agency said as many as 35 IS militants were killed in the airstrike that targeted the gathering point. The agency did not cite a source for the report and there was no official confirmation.

A government statement said the decision for the operation was taken at a security meeting on Thursday, held after five IS militants fired from Syrian territory at the outpost and prompting Turkish retaliation that killed at least one IS militant.

The official said the Turkish planes did not violate Syrian airspace.

The bombing followed a decision by Turkey this week to allow the U.S. military to use the key Incirlik air base near the border with Syria to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State, senior U.S. officials said.

Turkey has yet to publicly confirm the agreement, which U.S. officials discussed on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly. Citing operational security, the White House declined to confirm the agreement, but noted that Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had agreed to “deepen our cooperation” against IS in their phone call Wednesday.

The agreement follows months of U.S. appeals to Turkey and delicate negotiations over the use of Incirlik and other bases by the U.S.-led coalition — a sensitive topic in Turkey.

American officials said access to the base in southern Turkey would allow the U.S. to move more swiftly and nimbly to attack IS targets.

On Friday, Turkish police launched a major operation against terror groups including IS, carrying out simultaneous raids in Istanbul and 12 provinces and detaining more than 250 people, a government statement said. The state-run Anadolu Agency said as many as 5,000 police officers were involved in the operation which was also targeting the PKK Kurdish rebel group and the outlawed far-left group, DHKP-C.

One DHKP-C suspect, a woman, was killed in a gunfight with police in Istanbul, Anadolu reported.

Turkey’s moves came as the country finds itself drawn further into the conflict by a series of deadly attacks and signs of increased IS activity inside the country.

Earlier in the week, a suicide bombing blamed on IS militants killed 32 people in a town near the Syrian border.

Turkish officials have raised concerns that the bombing was part of a campaign of retaliation for Turkey’s recent crackdown on IS operations in the country. In the last six months, Turkish officials say, more than 500 people suspected of working with IS have been detained.

___

Butler reported from Istanbul.

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