Turkish forces have “neutralised” at least 14 Kurdish militants in northern Syria in overnight attacks on militant targets, the Defence Ministry said on Saturday, as conflict in the region escalated nearly a week after a bomb attack in Ankara.
Turkey this week said all targets belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militia and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia were “legitimate targets” for its forces, after the PKK claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing in Ankara which wounded two police officers and killed the two attackers.
Turkey said the attackers came from Syria but the Syrian SDF forces denied this. Since the bomb attack, Ankara has launched a barrage of air strikes and attacks against militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq, while ramping up security operations at home.
“Targets belonging to PKK/YPG terrorists in northern Syria’s Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch, and Peace Spring operation areas were hit strongly all night long,” the ministry said, referring to regions where Turkey has previously mounted incursions.
“According to initial findings, at least 14 terrorists have been neutralised,” it added, using a term it typically uses to mean killed.
Late on Friday, the ministry had said Turkey’s military had conducted air strikes in northern Syria, destroying 15 militant targets where it said militants were believed to be.
Turkey lists the YPG as a terrorist organisation and says it is indistinguishable from the PKK, which has fought an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
The United States and European Union deem the PKK a terrorist organisation, but not the YPG.
The YPG is at the heart of the SDF forces in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants. U.S. support for them has long caused tension with Turkey.
Underscoring the tension, the United States on Thursday shot down an armed Turkish drone that was operating near its troops in Syria, the first time Washington has brought down an aircraft of NATO ally Turkey.
Ankara and Washington held a series of calls following the incident, with Turkey saying non-conflict mechanisms with the parties on the ground would be improved, but vowing to continue hitting militants in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey, which has mounted several incursions into northern Syria against the YPG, has said a ground operation into Syria is an option it could consider.