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A Military Analysis of Turkey’s Incursion into Northern Iraq

From the Jamestown Foundation.

The recently concluded eight-day Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq marks the beginning of a new phase in Turkey’s nearly 24 year-old struggle against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Despite the Turkish military’s claims to have inflicted high casualties and severe damage to the PKK’s infrastructure in the region, in the medium term the greatest impact of the operation is likely to be psychological.

The incursion was the first major Turkish ground operation into northern Iraq in over a decade and followed over two months of aerial bombardments of PKK camps and bases in the region. By launching a ground operation in winter, when most of the mountainous terrain was still deep in snow, the Turkish military forced the PKK onto the defensive by demonstrating that organization’s presence in northern Iraq is no longer immune to attack—whether by land or from the air—at any time of the year.

While it was initially believed Turkey entered Iraq with two heavy brigades composed of 10,000 troops, this was a diversion to confuse the PKK. The Turkish military diverted attention from the coming attack on the Zap region by bombing PKK positions around Avasin. Instead 1400 commandos were airlifted to Zap. Operations were extremely sussessful.

Buyukanit said that intelligence reports indicated that around 300 PKK militants were located in the Zap region immediately prior to the incursion. He claimed that during the eight days of the operation the Turkish military had killed 240 of the militants, mostly during night attacks. On the Turkish side, 24 soldiers and three members of the Village Guards militia are reported to have died. Buyukanit also said that, in addition to the element of surprise, one of the reasons for the TGS’s decision to launch the attack in winter was that the snow made it very difficult for the PKK to use its stocks of explosives. According to the general, ground and air attacks resulted in the partial or total destruction of 126 caves, 290 shelters, 12 command centers, six training centers, 23 logistical facilities, 29 signals and communications facilities, 40 trenches and 59 anti-aircraft emplacements (Hurriyet, Sabah, Milliyet, Radikal, March 4); the figures have not been independently confirmed. The TGS has not released information on the quantities of arms and logistical supplies seized or destroyed during the operation.

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