ISTANBUL: Turkey on Monday said it has launched a new air and ground offensive against outlawed Kurdish militants in northern Iraq involving special forces and combat drones.
Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said commando units, unmanned aerial vehicles and attack helicopters were pounding Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hideouts in three restive regions near the Turkish border.
Designated as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies, the PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Turkey routinely carries out attacks in Iraq, where the PKK has bases and training camps in the Sinjar region and on the mountainous border with Turkey.
"Our heroic pilots successfully struck shelters, caves, tunnels and ammunition depots belonging to the terrorist organisation," Akar said.
"A large number of terrorists were neutralised," he said, adding that the scale of the operation will "further increase in the coming hours and days".
Akar would not say how many troops were involved in the operation, which he said started Sunday night.
Asked by AFP to comment on Turkey's operation, a PKK spokesman in Iraq said on condition of anonymity: "The occupation army, which tried to land troops by helicopters, also wanted to advance by land.
"There are intense clashes between the Turkish army and HPG guerrillas," referring to the PKK's military wing.
The defence ministry said the operation was meant to thwart a large-scale attack against Turkey by the PKK.
But its planning had been reported in the Turkish media for weeks.
It was launched two days after a rare visit to Turkey by the prime minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Masrour Barzani, suggesting that he had been briefed on Ankara's plans.
Barzani said after his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he welcomed "expanding cooperation to promote security and stability" in northern Iraq.
The government of Iraq's Kurdistan has an uneasy relationship with the PKK guerrillas, whose presence complicates the region's lucrative trade ties with Turkey.
But the offensives have added strains to Ankara's ties with Iraq's central government in Baghdad, which accuses Turkey of failing to respect the war-torn country's territorial integrity.
The latest raids, dubbed Operation Claw-Lock, come on the heels of Operations Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle launched by the Turkish army in northern Iraq in 2020.