Turkey and Iran vowed Friday to collaborate in their fight against Kurdish militants, as thousands of Turkish troops pressed ahead with an air and ground offensive against the militants in northern Iraq for a third day.
The foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey announced plans to cooperate against militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Iranian wing, the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, or PJAK, during a joint news conference in Ankara. Both groups, labeled as terrorist organizations by the United States, have been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in their respective countries.
“Our joint determination to struggle against the PKK and the PJAK will continue in the strongest way,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said. “From now on, we will work together in a joint action plan until this terrorist threat is totally eliminated.” Turkey launched a cross-border offensive against Kurdish militant hideouts in Iraq on Wednesday after 24 soldiers were killed by the militants near the border town of Cukurca. It was the deadliest one-day toll against the military since the mid-1990s.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi claimed that the deaths of Turkish soldiers might have been avoided if the United States had informed Turkey that the militants were infiltrating into Turkey with heavy weaponry. The U.S. shares intelligence from surveillance drones with Turkey about movement of Kurdish militants along the border.
Salehi said the PKK and PJAK were “common problems” for both countries.
“We need to cooperate more seriously against them,” Salehi said.
Turkey’s cooperation with Iran against the militants comes despite rifts with Tehran over a Turkish decision to host a NATO early warning radar as part of a missile defense system aimed at countering ballistic missile threats. Turkey is a U.S. ally but also benefits from friendly relations with Tehran both in trade and in fighting against the militants.
It was not immediately clear what measures the two countries are planning to take against the Kurdish militants, who have their main base on Qandil Mountain that sits on the Iraqi-Iranian border deep inside Iraq. Iranian artillery units have in the past fired salvos at Qandil, as Turkish warplanes staged bombing raids against suspected militant bases there.
The militants, however, reportedly rush into deep caves when they hear the whistling shells or the roar of the jets. And a ground offensive against Qandil is deemed highly risky and difficult since the area is allegedly heavily mined.
Turkish warplanes today flew several bombing sorties against Qandil as well as PKK camps along the Iraqi border in Zap and Hakurk regions, the state-run TRT television said.
About 10,000 Turkish troops were pursuing PKK militants in southeastern Turkey and across the border in Iraq. The number of troops that crossed into Iraq was not clear.
“The air and ground offensives mostly concentrate within Turkey and in Cukurca area, while air and ground operations are underway in a few areas across the border in northern Iraq,” the military said in a statement today.