Inside Turkey’s raid on Iraqi cave the place 13 captives have been killed

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Feb 16, 2021

Ankara has many inquiries to reply over the deaths of 13 captives by the hands of Turkish Kurdish militants in a mountainous collapse northern Iraq, however data obtained by Al-Monitor suggests {that a} probably momentous Turkish operation may need gone awry on the final minute.

On Feb. 12, Turkey woke as much as the information that three officers from the Turkish particular forces had been killed and a number of other wounded within the Gara area of northern Iraq, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Turkish border. For greater than three a long time, the mountainous space has served as a significant logistical and coaching base for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought Ankara since 1984 and is taken into account a terrorist group by a lot of the worldwide group.

On Feb. 14, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar introduced that the PKK executed 13 unarmed Turkish residents held captive in a collapse Gara. Officials recognized the victims as troopers, policemen and civilians, whom the PKK had kidnapped from 2015 by means of 2017. Two operatives of the National Intelligence Organization have been allegedly among the many slain captives. All however one have been shot within the head as a Turkish navy operation was underway within the space, Akar stated, including that 53 PKK militants have been killed.

The southern outskirts of Gara Mountain have been already the scene of armed tensions between the PKK and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) peshmerga forces. Peshmerga forces have struggled to regulate the realm due to the tough terrain, and Turkey’s frequent cross-border incursions in pursuit of the PKK have hardly ever prolonged to Gara attributable to restricted technique of provide by land. For Turkey, the cleaning and long-term management of the realm would require an enormous navy buildup, the assist of native peshmerga and powerful provide capabilities.

Following Akar’s assertion, stories emerged that the PKK executed the captives whereas Turkish warplanes have been closely bombing the realm Feb. 10-11, fueling myriad questions on what Ankara’s unique plans have been. Early final week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had stated he would give the nation some excellent news Feb. 10. His anticipated deal with to the nation didn’t occur, main many to wonder if Erdogan had hoped to announce the rescue of the captives however as an alternative issues went awry on the bottom.

Indeed, Al-Monitor has realized that Ankara hoped to hit two birds with one stone: rescue the captives, and kill or seize prime PKK commanders Murat Karayilan and Duran Kalkan, who have been purported to travel to Gara for a gathering in the identical cave, in response to human intelligence Ankara had obtained. The PKK, nonetheless, appeared to have gotten wind of the plan and the assembly was canceled on the final minute, well-placed sources advised Al-Monitor. Still, the PKK within the space had no time to flee as the primary stage of the operation started round three a.m. Feb. 10 with about 40 Turkish F-16 jets bombing the realm, backed by armed and surveillance drones. It was at this level that the native PKK chief is believed to have executed the 13 captives, believing there was no means out.

After a number of hours of bombing raids, S-70 Sikorsky helicopters dropped off three particular forces battalions to the realm. Three particular forces troopers have been killed whereas storming and securing the cave, the place they found the slain captives. Helicopters flew the our bodies to Turkey’s japanese metropolis of Malatya, the place forensic examinations occurred.

According to native stories, all Turkish troopers left the realm because the operation ended Feb. 14 — a sign that Turkey is just not planning a long-lasting navy presence to regulate Gara, in contrast to the navy outposts it has set as much as comprise the PKK in areas alongside the border.

The final result of the operation has fueled heated debates in Turkey, with opposition events urging the federal government to elucidate why the captives needed to meet such a tragic finish. The following questions by the opposition are nonetheless awaiting official solutions: What have been the political and navy aims of the operation? Was the raid initially deliberate as a rescue operation? If so, why did the operation contain air raids that weakened the aspect of shock and collaboration with native Kurdish peshmerga that heightened the chance of leakage? Why did some media shops trumpet a looming operation on Gara days earlier than the raid? Was there any danger evaluation concluding that such an operation was the final resort to avoid wasting the captives? Were there not different choices to rescue them?

Meanwhile, pro-government media counsel the Gara raid might be the harbinger of a Turkish navy marketing campaign in Sinjar, the Yazidi-populated area of Iraq, the place the PKK has gained a foothold since coming to the assistance of the Yazidis towards the Islamic State in 2014. The area, which borders Syria, is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Turkish border. Gara is the bridge between Sinjar to the west and the Qandil Mountains — the PKK’s most outstanding base — to the east.

In the previous two years, Erbil has grown more and more uneasy with the PKK presence on its soil amid lethal confrontations and the PKK’s sabotaging of an oil pipeline that has value the KRG tens of millions of {dollars}. Yet Erbil is unwilling to confront the PKK in Sinjar and Baghdad seems much more reluctant. Under the Sinjar deal that Erbil and Baghdad signed in October, solely federal forces ought to function in Sinjar, with all different armed teams leaving. Media stories counsel that each the PKK and pro-Iranian Iraqi militias are searching for to undermine the deal and keep within the area. Still, Baghdad is unlikely to hitch or overtly assist a Turkish navy move in Sinjar.

Two eventualities are being floated in Ankara concerning a doable operation in Sinjar. The first means that Turkey would use land and air forces to drive the PKK out unilaterally, even when it fails to enlist the assist of Baghdad and Erbil. Such a move, nonetheless, is more likely to unleash detrimental reactions not solely from Iraq but in addition the United States, Iran, Russia and the European Union. Moreover, a land marketing campaign to cleanse after which safe the area would require the deployment of no less than 5,000 to six,000 troops for a reasonably lengthy interval, which is a tall order logistically, given Sinjar’s distance to the Turkish border.

The second state of affairs rests on a doable understanding between Ankara, Baghdad and Erbil, whereby Turkish warplanes would offer air assist to a land operation carried out collectively by Iraqi and KRG forces. Ankara has already made such a proposal to Baghdad and Erbil, however each have but to simply accept it, Turkish diplomatic sources advised Al-Monitor.

In any case, the PKK’s motion potential in northern Iraq has been notably curbed on account of Turkey’s navy strain and the toughening stance of the KRG. The battle for political and navy leverage between Ankara and the PKK is more likely to intensify within the coming days, affecting Sinjar in addition to northern Syria, the place associates of the PKK maintain sway over Kurdish areas. How the Joe Biden administration engages within the difficulty — essentially the most delicate side of Turkish-US relations — can be a key consider who makes beneficial properties on the bottom.

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