Turkey Sends Commandos Into Iraq After Kurdish Rebels Kill 26 Turkish Soldiers

Suspected P.K.K. rebels stage one of the worst attacks on Turkish troops in years

Updated at 7:45 p.m. EDT, Oct. 19, 2011

Suspected Kurdistan Workers Party (P.K.K.) rebels ambushed two military posts in southeastern Turkey today, killing at 26 Turkish soldiers and wounding 18 more. Backed by helicopter gunships, about 600 Turkish commandos then entered several miles into Iraq in response to the attacks. The number of dead rebels is unknown. Turkey also hinted that outside forces might be supporting the rebels.

The P.K.K. claimed to have killed 100 Turkish soldiers, while only five of their rebels were killed during the attacks. According to other reports, though, at least 15 rebels were killed. Due to the remoteness of these mountainous areas where the P.K.K. keeps base camps, independent confirmation of casualty figures is unlikely.

The attacks came just hours after Turkey resumed shelling northern Iraq as part of a larger escalation of violence that began in May after the latest peace attempts failed. The P.K.K. is seeking greater autonomy for Kurds in Turkey, where they have been treated as second-class citizens for decades. The guerilla war has left an estimated 40,000 dead since 1984.

In an official statement, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said, “as a friend and ally, the United States will continue to stand with the people and government of Turkey in their fight against the P.K.K., which the United States has officially designated as a terrorist organization.”

As well as enjoying the moral support, Turkey has been dependent on U.S. intelligence to stage their counter-attacks on the rebels. The United States has already promised to redeploy Predator drones to Turkey and send helicopters after the U.S. pullout from Iraq.