ISTANBUL // About 10,000 Turkish troops attacked Kurdish rebels in south-east Turkey and Iraq yesterday in their biggest offensive in three years. The assault by 22 battalions of commandos and special forces is retaliation for Kurdish rebel raids in Hakkari province near the Iraq border on Wednesday, in which 24 Turkish soldiers died and 18 were wounded.
Military chiefs said yesterday the troops, supported by fighter jets, helicopter gunships and surveillance drones, had orders to "find and eliminate" members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), who use northern Iraq as a launch pad for attacks inside Turkey.
After Wednesday's deadly coordinated raids, troops in helicopters pursued the rebels over the border while artillery and fighter jets pounded suspected PKK camps in Iraq, but only yesterday did the scale of the operation became clear.
It was not known whether Turkey consulted authorities in Iraq before their troops crossed the border. The PKK has been making use of the absence of a strong authority in northern Iraq for years and has launched its attacks against Turkey from its headquarters in the Kandil Mountains, 100 kilometres south of the Turkish border.
Necirvan Barzani, a high-ranking official from the Kurdish-administered region of northern Iraq, held talks in Ankara yesterday with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister. Mr Barzani said Iraq's Kurds shared Turkey's grief about the latest PKK attack and announced that Mesut Barzani, his uncle and president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, would visit Ankara soon for talks about co-operating against the PKK.
Mr Davutoglu told Iraq's vice president Tariq Al Hashimi on Wednesday that Turkey expected more help from Iraq on the PKK issue.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the UAE, Dr Anwar Mohammed Gergash condemned the terrorist attacks by the Kurds.
"The UAE condemns these terrorist acts, reiterates its full solidarity with the Turkish government against extremism and terrorism, offers condolences to the families of the victims and expresses best wishes of speedy recovery for the wounded," the minister said.
As Ankara started to look into possible foreign involvement in the PKK raid in Hakkari, speculation centred on Syria. "Evidence will hopefully appear after an investigation," a government source in Ankara told The National yesterday in response to a question about a possible interference of another country. The government of Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian president, warned Ankara this month not to recognise a Syrian opposition group that was established in Turkey. Iran, another neighbour, said the Turkish government should stop promoting its secular Muslim state and market economy as a model for Arab Spring countries and should reconsider its decision to have a part of Nato's missile shield on its soil..
Ignoring the warning by the Syrian government, this week Mr Davutoglu met representatives of the opposition Syrian National Council.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, said on Wednesday the raid in Hakkari and other recent PKK attacks had "clearly shown that the terrorist organisation is someone's tool". The PKK was acting as the "subcontractor of some quarters", he said.
Cengiz Candar, a columnist, wrote in yesterday's Radikal newspaper: "Without naming names, Tayyip Erdogan has pointed to Syria and Iran."
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a PKK expert in Ankara, said it would not be a surprise if it turned out that Turkey's neighbours had cooperated with the Kurdish rebels.
"For 30 years, the PKK has always found new sponsors despite all the changes in the region," said Mr Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, a think tank in Ankara.
Relations between Turkey and Syria have soured over the violent suppression of a popular uprising by the government in Damascus. Mr Erdogan has said publicly that he felt betrayed by Mr Al Assad and has been preparing a set of sanctions against Turkey's southern neighbour.
Turkish observers pointed out that the PKK was not fighting against the Syrian regime although Kurds had much less freedom in Syria than they had in Turkey, and there were many Syrian nationals in the rebels' ranks.
"It is quite telling that PKK says nothing against the Syrian regime, which suppresses Kurds in ways incomparable to Turkey," Mustafa Akyol, a newspaper columnist and book author, said in a message on Twitter.
Syria gave shelter to the PKK leadership in the 1990s and expelled the rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan from Damascus only under extensive Turkish pressure in 1998.
Ocalan was captured by Turkish agents shortly afterwards. He is serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison. Officials in Ankara underlined yesterday that there was no evidence linking Syria to the latest PKK raid.