Turkish jets target Kurdish positions in Iraq, Syria; 4 die

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish warplanes struck suspected Kurdish insurgent positions in Iraq and Syria early on Wednesday in a new aerial offensive that Ankara said aimed to protect Turkey’s borders from “terrorist threats."

The airstrikes killed at least four people, a Britain-based war monitoring group reported, and drew condemnation from U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters who said the attack came days after the Kurdish-led forces in Syria battled Islamic State group militants.

A Turkish defense ministry statement said the strikes hit targets, including shelters, caves, ammunition depots and training camps, on Sinjar Mountain and in the Karacak region in northern Iraq, and the Derik region in northern Syria.

The operations dubbed “Winter Eagle” were aimed against Turkey's insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, which Ankara says has hideouts there, and the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces known as People’s Protection Units, or YPG in Syria.

The YPG is a close U.S. ally against the Islamic State group but is labeled a terrorist group by Ankara because of its ties to the PKK.

The strikes aimed to “eliminate terrorist threats against our people and security forces from the north of Iraq and Syria and to ensure our border security,” the ministry statement read.

“Last night, we bombed targets in three different locations and they could not even find a hole to escape to,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar claimed that several insurgents were “neutralized” in the operation, including a number of PKK names wanted by Turkey. Around 60 aircraft were involved in the offensive, including warplanes and armed and unarmed drones, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Close to 80 targets were struck, it said.

The war monitor in Syria — the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — said Turkish drones fired two missiles at a power station near Syria’s northeastern village of Malikiyah close to the Iraqi border, killing at least four people. It added that several people were wounded and electricity was cut in a number of nearby villages.

It said the strike hit the building where the guards stay, adding that the dead were both guards and civilians. The Observatory reported another Turkish drone strike at a power station a day earlier near the Semalka border crossing between Syria and Iraq’s Kurdish region. It said one Kurdish fighter was wounded.

A Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria condemned the Turkish airstrikes and urged the international community to intervene to stop what it called “the terrorist Turkish aggression.”

It said the Turkish strikes came days after the Kurdish-led and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces defeated scores of IS militants who broke into a prison where some 3,000 extremists are held in the northeastern city of Hassakeh. The weeklong battle left dozens of people dead, including many IS fighters.

“This escalation and aggression is a clear indication that Turkey is not happy with Daesh’s failure,” the authority said in a statement using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

Turkey's defense ministry said “utmost sensitivity was shown” regarding the security of the civilians during the operations. It said Turkey would "continue the fight against terrorism for the security of our country and our nation with determination until the last terrorist is neutralized.”

Turkey has carried out similar cross-border airstrikes in the past.

The PKK has led an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984 which has killed tens of thousands of people. The group is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, including the United States and the European Union.

In a related development, shelling on Wednesday afternoon in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters, killed at least seven people, according to opposition activists who blamed Syrian Kurdish fighters for the attack.

The Observatory said seven died and 29 were wounded, while the Qasioun news agency, an activist collective, said eight people were killed and more than 25 were wounded.

Shelling and explosions in areas held by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters over the past month have killed scores. Turkey and Syrian groups it backs have blamed Kurdish fighters for the attacks.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.