ISTANBUL, ANKARA : Three Turkish soldiers died on Saturday in a mortar attack by Kurdish militants launched from Iraqi territory, the Turkish Defense Ministry said.
“Three of our brothers in arms died as martyrs after mortar fire from northern Iraq by terrorists,” the ministry said, in reference to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
A fourth soldier was wounded, it said in a statement. The attack took place in a region where Turkey carried out a cross-border operation dubbed Euphrates Shield in 2016, aiming to drive Daesh militants and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from its border with Syria, the ministry said.
The army had retaliated with artillery fire but gave no further details on the whereabouts of the attack, it said.
The attack targeted a military base in the border province of Hakkari, according to the ministry.
The Turkish Army had responded with aerial bombardments and artillery fire. The PKK, branded a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU, has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. The conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives, the ministry added.
The PKK’s deployment in northern Iraq has been a constant source of tension between Baghdad and Ankara, with Turkey pressing Iraq to play a bigger role in fighting the group.
The Defense Ministry also said that another Turkish soldier had been killed on Saturday in northern Syria by the YPG, a Kurdish militia closely allied with the PKK.
Unlike the PKK, however, the YPG has the backing of Western powers in its fight against Daesh.
Turkish forces shelled YPG positions in the Tel Rifaat region earlier this year, saying this was in response to YPG fire.
Tel Rifaat is controlled by Kurdish-led forces and is located some 20 km east of Afrin, which has been under the control of Turkey and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies since an operation last year to drive out the YPG.
Turkey, which has long been one of the main backers of opposition groups fighting against Syria’s Bashar Assad, has conducted patrols with Russia, one of Assad’s main allies, in northern areas under agreements reached last year.
In March, the Defense Ministry said Turkish and Russian forces carried out the first “independent and coordinated” patrols in Tel Rifaat.