“ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish warplanes launched air raids at suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq Saturday after a rebel attack on a military outpost in Turkey touched off clashes in which nine soldiers and 12 rebel fighters died, Turkey’s military and reports said.
Two other soldiers were killed in a land mine explosion while chasing the rebels, the state-run Anatolia new agency reported, raising the overall death toll in Saturday’s violence to 23.
Special forces were immediately sent to reinforce the border area where the clashes occurred and Turkish warplanes bombed detected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq the military said, without providing any further details.
At least 14 other soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
Kurdish rebels have dramatically stepped up attacks in Turkey in recent months, threatening a government attempt to end one of the world’s longest guerrilla wars. The military said Friday more than 40 soldiers had been killed since March – including six who died in a rocket attack on a vehicle near a naval base in southern Turkey – and warned it anticipated more attacks.
Turkey’s military has responded by sending warplanes across the border for raids on suspected rebel bases while elite commandos crossed the border in pursuit of the rebels in a daylong incursion earlier this week.
The rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have used northern Iraq as a springboard to stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in their decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. The Turkish military says around 4,000 rebels are based just across the border in Iraq and that about 2,500 operate inside Turkey.
The group declared it was increasing attacks on June 1, a day after imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan said in a statement relayed by his lawyers that his calls for dialogue with Turkey had been ignored and that he was giving his consent to the rebel command in northern Iraq to determine which course of action to take.”