ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish soldiers, air force bombers and helicopter gunships reportedly launched an incursion into Iraq on Wednesday, hours after Kurdish rebels killed 26 soldiers and wounded 16 others in multiple attacks along the border.
Turkish authorities did not immediately confirm the incursion, which was first reported by the websites of Hurriyet newspaper and the pro-Kurdish Firat news agency. However, the chief of the military as well as interior and defense ministers rushed to the area while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan canceled a visit to Kazakhstan.
NTV television reported Turkish troops penetrated as deep as 2.5 miles and artillery units were shelling Kurdish rebel bases across the border. Turkey last staged a major ground offensive against Iraq early 2008.
“No one should forget that those who make us suffer this pain will be made to suffer even stronger,” President Abdullah Gul told reporters Wednesday. “They will see that the vengeance for these attacks will be immense.”
The rebels launched simultaneous attacks on military outposts and police stations near the border towns of Cukurca and Yuksekova early Wednesday, authorities said. The attacks left 26 soldiers dead and 16 others wounded, NTV television said.
It was the deadliest Kurdish rebel attack in several years. Around 100 Kurdish rebels were believed to have participated in the attacks, according to TRT television. The rebels fled to northern Iraq at dawn after nearly four hours of intense fighting as Turkish military shelled their escape routes, NTV said.
The rebels have lately intensified their attacks in a war for autonomy in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast, killing dozens of members of the country’s security force and at least 18 civilians since mid-July.
On Tuesday, a roadside bomb blast killed five policemen and three civilians, including a 4-year-old girl.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.