The Turkish government last week said PKK-linked groups have seized control of five towns along the border in collaboration with Syria’s Democratic Union Party, or PYD- an ethnic Kurdish grouping. Turkey alleges that these groups migrated to civil-war engulfed Syria from bases in northern Iraq.
The idea that Syria, like northern Iraq, could become a safe haven for the PKK an anathema to Turkey’s leaders. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu was to travel to northern Iraq on Wednesday to urge the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region not to support the Syrian political party.
The Turkish military has targeted PKK bases in northern Iraq several times in the past, and the government hinted that it would not hesitate to do the same against any similar group in Syria.
“We will never tolerate initiatives that would threaten Turkey’s security,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said in an address to the nation Tuesday.
The military drill on Wednesday involved around 25 tanks performing high-speed maneuvers near the Turkish town of Nusaybin, which lies a few kilometers (miles) north of the Syrian town of Qamishli.
“This is a routine exercise, it will continue for a few days,” the state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Turhan Ayvaz, governor of Mardin province, as saying.
Turkey has emerged as a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime is fighting to survive as a popular uprising that began in March 2011 has evolved into a civil war. Rights activists estimate Syria’s conflict has killed more than 19,000; it also has eroded Assad’s grip on parts of the country.
Turkey has taken in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. It also has moved anti-aircraft missile batteries to the Syrian border after Syria downed a Turkish reconnaissance jet in June, and it recently began deploying tanks to border areas.
At the same time, Turkey has been wary of the effect of the Syrian conflict on the Kurdish people, who make up significant portions of the population in Turkey as well as Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Syria once sheltered now-captured PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, but kicked him out in late 1998 when Turkey threatened it with war. Earlier this week, Turkish leaders expressed concern at the hoisting of a red-yellow-green banner of the PKK in some Syrian towns.
Meantime, Turkish troops have been clashing with the PKK in Turkey’s southeast, according to local media. At least two soldiers were reported killed Wednesday in a clash near the town of Lice.
The southeastern town of ?emdinli in Hakkari province also has witnessed days of clashes, NTV television reported. At least two soldiers were killed and 10 others have been wounded in fighting that began July 23 after the PKK set up a road block in the area.
NTV said the terrorists reportedly attempted to seize Semdinli, sparking a major offensive by the troops. Turkish artillery units were pounding suspected PKK positions on mountains in the area, it said.
Authorities have yet to confirm any PKK death toll, but some news agencies and television channels said dozens of terrorists have been killed.