Turkey’s antiterrorism operation against ISIS and other militant targets is not over, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday after Turkish forces arrested nearly 600 terror suspects, bombed ISIS positions in northern Iraq and rounded up Kurdish militants in a daylong operation.
The strikes also targeted the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), and came days after ISIS militants killed a Turkish soldier in border clashes.
The same week, a suicide blast killed more than 30 people in Suruc, a Turkish town that borders Syria. Turkish authorities blamed it on ISIS.
“We will not stay silent in the face of those who kill our police officers in their sleep,” Davutoglu said, referring to PKK’s assassination of two Turkish police officers Wednesday.
Turkey initially decided to attack ISIS during a national security meeting Thursday headed by Davutoglu.
“This is a big deal for the U.S. and the coalition, to get the Turks on their side,” retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rich Francona, a military analyst, told CNN. “This is a game-changer.”
This is the first time Turkey has attacked ISIS and PKK simultaneously.
PKK issued a statement declaring a 2013 ceasefire agreement with Turkey to be over, according to pro-PKK Firat News Agency. The statement also referred to the slaying of the two police officers, calling it an act of “retribution” carried out by “local branches” without orders from central PKK command.
Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani expressed concern over Turkey’s bombardment of PKK positions in Iraq’s Kurdish area, but he called on all parties to stay calm “because peace is the only solution to problems and years of dialogue is better than an hour of fighting,” he said in a statement posted on Kurdistan Region of Iraq website.
Turkey believes that PKK is exploiting ISIS efforts. PKK has been fighting for independence and autonomy from Turkey since 1984 and is feared to be making gains. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, but PKK militants have come to the aid of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who have been fighting ISIS in northern Iraq.
The Turkish airstrikes on ISIS coincided with ground troops targeting PKK militants in shelters, depots and caves around mountainous areas near the Iraq border.
“This is a package deal for the Turks,” counterterrorism expert Phillip Mudd told CNN New Day. The United States would probably prefer that Turkey stay away from PKK targets, he said.
This week the U.S. reached a tentative agreement with Turkey to increase U.S. and coalition access to Turkish air bases.
“We attach great importance to our cooperation with the U.S. and believe that it will result in an effective fight against the ISIS threat,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
He said Turkey and the U.S. are still determining which military base to use. It was not yet clear if the strategic Incirlik military base in southern Adana province was part of the deal, according to Turkey’s semiofficial news agency Anadolu.
ISIS targets Kurds
ISIS detonated three car bombs at Kurdish positions in Northern Syria Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London based monitor.
Two of the bombs went off near the Kurdish-controlled town of Tal Abyad close to the Turkish border, which lies on the main road to Raqqa, the city ISIS considers to be its capital.
The third bomb struck Kurdish forces in northern Aleppo province, according to the Syrian Observatory.
Safe zones for refugees
On Saturday, Cavusoglu said the military operations against ISIS in northern Syria would result in “natural” safe zones for refugees. Turkey is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees — more than 1.8 million, according to the United Nations.
“Refugees currently in Turkey and neighboring countries, as well as those internally displaced in Syria and Iraq, need to be placed in these safe zones,” Cavusoglu said.
Turkey has in the past asked for no-fly zones to protect its border.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Friday that no-fly zones have been part of discussion with Turkey on how best to counter ISIS along the Turkish Border.
There have been talks “about some of the logistical challenges that would be
inherent in a buffer zone,” said spokesman Mark Toner. ” They are a NATO ally. So we’re looking at options,” he said.
Three F-16s from an air base in southeastern Turkey conducted the airstrikes Friday, authorities said.
They hit two ISIS bases and a gathering point, the Prime Minister’s office said.
The targets were chosen based on intelligence reports suggesting a buildup of weapons and explosives in the area, a Turkish official told CNN on condition of anonymity.
The fighter jets have completed their mission, but the Turkish official didn’t rule out the possibility of further airstrikes.
Deadliest Terror Attacks
On Thursday, at least five ISIS militants in northern Syria approached the border and fired on a Turkish border unit, killing one soldier and wounding two others, according to the Turkish military.
The attack on Monday in Suruc was one of the deadliest terror attacks to hit Turkey in years.
The blast struck a gathering of mostly Kurdish activists calling for more help to rebuild Kobani, the Syrian city that was the scene of intense fighting last fall between ISIS and predominantly Kurdish forces.
Early indications pointed to involvement by ISIS in the Suruc bombing, Prime Minister Davutoglu said, though an investigation hadn’t been completed.
The 600 terrorism suspects arrested come from all over the country, Davutoglu said Friday.