ISTANBUL: Several Turkish soldiers were killed and more wounded in a major attack in southeastern Hakkari province carried out by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, the military said Monday, keeping tight-lipped over the scale of the death toll.
The Turkish air force immediately scrambled warplanes to strike PKK targets in southeast Turkey in retaliation, marking a further intensification in the latest flare-up of the decades-long conflict.
In a sign of the gravity of the attack on Sunday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu broke off a trip to Konya to watch a national football game and summoned an emergency security meeting in Ankara, the official Anatolia agency said.
The army said the PKK attack on two military vehicles in a convoy in Daglica district of Hakkari — a known stronghold of the Kurdish militants — had killed several soldiers and wounded others.
“Two of our armored vehicles were severely damaged by improvised explosive devices left on the road,” the army said, adding: “Some of our brave soldiers were killed and others injured as a result of the explosion.”
Two Turkish F-4 and two F-16 warplanes were deployed to carry out strikes in a “heavy air campaign” against 13 targets controlled by the militants in retaliation, it added.
Many “terrorists” were killed in the air strikes, Anatolia said, without giving a precise toll.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was “very sad” about the attack on the soldiers, telling the A-Haber channel in a live television interview: “A mine attack has been staged. There will be a very particular and decisive fight there.”
He added the attack happened during a “clean-up operation” against PKK militants.
‘Act of sabotage’
The PKK claimed the attack as an “act of sabotage” in a statement on the website of its military wing, the People’s Defense Forces (HPG).
The group, which is known for sometimes exaggerating tolls of attacks on the security forces, said 15 soldiers had been killed.
Unofficial reports on the Internet had also indicated that the death toll was considerably higher than in any other PKK attack during a current spike in unrest in Turkey.
It is extremely unusual for the army not to give a precise death toll after an attack, leading to speculation that the number was unusually high, or simply not known.