Turkey carried out dozens of airstrikes in northern Syria and Iraq on Sunday against Kurdish groups it blamed for a recent deadly bombing in Istanbul.
Ankara blamed the Kurdish militant group PKK for the Istanbul bombing, which killed six people and wounded at least 81. For their part, the PKK and its affiliates have denied any role in the attack.
Dozens of people were reported killed in Turkey’s strikes in Syria, although there are conflicting reports about the casualties. The US-backed Kurdish-led SDF reported one of its fighters was killed along with 13 civilians.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) had a conflicting report that said 14 militants were killed in airstrikes in SDF-controlled areas. The SOHR is also reporting that 12 Syrian government soldiers were killed by Turkish airstrikes in other areas, but that number isn’t confirmed.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said Sunday that its warplanes hit 89 targets across northern Syria and Iraq, claiming they were all military infrastructure connected to the PKK. Before dawn on Sunday, the Ministry posted a picture of a warplane on Twitter and wrote: “The scoundrels are being held accountable for the treacherous attacks!”
The airstrikes were one of Turkey’s largest operations in the region in years, raising fears that a major conflict between the Kurdish groups and Ankara could break out. The SDF warned it will retaliate and that its response will come “effectively and efficiently at the right time and place.”
Turkey has always been unhappy about US support for the SDF in Syria, and Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu accused Washington of complicity in the Istanbul bombing over its backing of the group.
The SDF has said that it’s “open” to working with the Syrian government against Turkey, but the US presence in Syria makes that cooperation more difficult. On the other hand, Turkey recently said it’s willing to ally with Syria against the Kurdish groups, but Ankara has long backed militias against Damascus.