Turkey Hardens Resolve to Crush PKK By All Means

Posted 2016-05-29 23:31 GMT – ISTANBUL (Xinhua) — Turkey is hardening its resolve to crush the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, a mission analysts said is not easy to accomplish. The analysts cautioned that a definitive victory is impossible without a ground operation into Iraq and Syria, which is made difficult by U.S. alliance with Kurds against the Islamic State (IS).

“It does not look possible for Turkey, which does not or can not carry out a ground operation, to achieve a definitive success against the PKK,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an Ankara-based security analyst. After the collapse of a settlement process and renewed fighting between security forces and PKK militants in July last year, Turkey’s top officials have vowed that the operations against the group will continue until its total defeat.

As a matter of fact, the northern parts of war-torn Iraq and Syria, areas that border Turkey, are safe havens for the PKK where it has headquarters and bases.The United States as well as Russia sees Kurds, including the PKK, in Iraq and Syria as allies in its fight against the IS. Aware that the U.S. would be highly displeased by a cross-border ground operation against the PKK, Turkey has so far had to content itself with just airstrikes on the group in northern Iraq.

“The PKK could be kept under pressure partially by air operations, but no lasting success can be achieved,” stressed Ozcan, who also lectures on international relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology. The PKK has been waging a bloody war against Turkey since 1984 for an autonomous if not an independent Kurdistan in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. Earlier this week, Turkish media reported, citing unnamed military sources, that almost 5,000 PKK members had been killed in the operations at home and in northern Iraq since the peace process broke down. Meanwhile, around 500 members of the security forces have lost their lives, with an attack helicopter downed as well probably by a ground-to-air missile by the PKK during recent clashes in Hakkari, a province bordering Iraq.

“Unless the bases in northern Iraq are eliminated with a large-scale operation, PKK terrorism will not end,” remarked Sait Yilmaz, a security analyst who teaches international relations in Istanbul’s Yeditepe University. –  Noting that air operations alone would not suffice to get rid of the PKK threat, Yilmaz said “Turkey should also target top PKK figures just like the U.S. does.” Binali Yildirim, Turkey’s new prime minister, recently described terrorism as No. 1 problem facing the country, vowing continued operations against the PKK until it stops attacks and lays down arms. The wars in Iraq and Syria, however, have made the PKK much stronger now, as it not only has a larger area under its control in Syria, but also enjoys open military support from Washington for being a legitimate force against the IS.In Ozcan’s view, the U.S. would not allow a ground operation against the PKK either in Iraq or Syria under the current circumstances as fighting against the IS is Washington’s top priority.

“This situation also damages Turkish-U.S. ties,” Ozcan added.

Kurdish forces in Syria are organized under the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is seen as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK and controls more than two-thirds of Turkey’s 910-kilometer-long border with Syria. Despite Ankara’s protests, Washington continues to support the YPG which it wants to use as ground forces against the IS in Syria. In Iraq, some elements of the PKK will probably be part of the Kurdish forces when an offensive is launched to retake Mosul from the IS. U.S. special forces, whose number is estimated to have at least reached several hundreds recently, have long trained YPG members in warfare tactics and in using possibly some sophisticated weapons, press reports said. Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. Central Command, met with Kurdish commanders in northern Syria last weekend, just ahead of a military operation to capture Raqqa, IS’ de facto capital in Syria.

According to Serhat Erkmen, a senior Middle East analyst with the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, a Turkish ground or air operation against the YPG is unlikely as the Kurds enjoy support not only from the U.S., but also from Russia and many European countries.

“It is obvious Russia will retaliate in case Turkey conducts a military operation into Syria,” he said.

The relations between Russia and Turkey have deteriorated since a Turkish fighter shot down in November last year a Russian bomber near the Syrian border for allegedly violating Turkey’s air space.Russia has made clear that it is looking for an opportunity to get its revenge after having deployed its state-of-the-art air defense system in Syria following the downing incident.

Russia is a staunch supporter of the Syrian government in the five-year-old conflict, while Turkey offers support to what it calls “moderate” rebels. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently enumerated the YPG among the groups that should be supported by Russian and U.S. air forces. Turkey is seriously concerned that the combat experience and some sophisticated weapons the PKK may have acquired in Syria and Iraq could be costly for it in the days ahead. Homemade explosives, sophisticated booby-traps and snipers have been the main causes of deaths of Turkish security forces in PKK attacks and the fighting in towns in Turkey’s southeast.