President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned an “outrageous terrorist attack” by PKK Kurdish rebels in Turkey which killed at least 24 soldiers on a deadly day for the key U.S. ally.
“The United States will continue our strong cooperation with the Turkish government as it works to defeat the terrorist threat from the PKK and to bring peace, stability and prosperity to all the people of southeast Turkey,” Obama said in a statement.
Turkish warplanes struck Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq on Wednesday in response to a guerrilla attack which killed 24 soldiers and injured 18 others in southeast Turkey, military sources told Reuters, but it was unclear what damage they had caused.
The sources also said military helicopters had transported Turkish commandos across the border and set them down at strategic points up to 7-8 km within Iraqi territory. Some 500 soldiers were in Iraqi territory in the region near the attack, they said.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, said Turkish troops were conducting “hot pursuit” operations in a region near the border with Iraq.
“As of now, wide reaching operations, including hot pursuit operations, are continuing in the region within the framework of international law,” Erdogan told a news conference after he convened an emergency meeting with the interior and defense ministers, along with intelligence chiefs and top generals.
Security officials in the region earlier told Reuters that Turkish troops killed 15 Kurdish militants in clashes in southeast Turkey near the Iraqi border.
At least 100 Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were believed to have taken part in the attacks, which targeted seven locations, security sources said.
They said there were intermittent clashes between the troops and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels in the border area near Cukurca in Hakkari province.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had cancelled a planned trip to Kazakhstan after the attack, which was one of the deadliest attacks on Turkish security forces in years, sources at Erdogan’s office said.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also cancelled a planned trip to Serbia, ministry officials said.
The toll is the heaviest for the army since 1993, when the PKK killed 33 unarmed soldiers in Bingol province, in southeast Turkey, AFP reported.
The death toll might rise as some injured soldiers have sustained life-threatening wounds, Turkey’s NTV said.
“Turkey will not be shaken by terror... We will do whatever we can do to finish this,” President Abdullah Gul said in televised remarks.
Clashes between the PKK and the army have escalated since summer.
On Tuesday, a landmine explosion killed five police and three civilians in southeast Turkey in an attack which security sources blamed on Kurdish rebels, according to AFP.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.
Kurdish separatists have stepped up their attacks in southeastern Turkey, killing more than 50 Turkish security personnel since July.
The Turkish military has launched retaliatory air raids on Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq.
Kurdish rebels took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have died in the conflict. They have bases in northern Iraq from which they cross the border to attack Turkish targets.
The PKK is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.