A Turkish drone strike struck a military vehicle north of Erbil, killing two Iraqi border guard battalion commanders and their driver, the Iraqi military said Tuesday.
According to the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw, the strike in the Bradost area in northern Iraq targeted a meeting between border officials and fighters with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist group. Bradost Mayor Ihsan Chelebi told the Associated Press that the officers killed Tuesday had been setting up new posts in the area.
Turkey has long targeted PKK strongholds in neighboring Iraq it says are used by the militants to launch cross-border attacks inside Turkey. Tuesday's strike appears to be the first to kill regular Iraqi forces since the start of Turkey’s latest military campaign in Iraq.
The Turkish military expanded its operations in June, launching a wave of airstrikes against Kurdish militants in the Yazidi homeland of Sinjar and the Qandil mountains. The Turkish defense minister said on Sunday that Turkey had “neutralized” 83 militants since June 16, a term indicating they were killed, captured or surrendered.
Local media outlets have also confirmed the deaths of several civilians during Turkey’s most recent anti-PKK campaign. Human Rights Watch blasted Turkey for failing to minimize risk to civilians following a June 25 strike targeting a PKK-linked Iranian armed group. The attack injured at least six civilians and damaged a popular waterpark in the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah.
The PKK, which the United States and the European Union also label a terrorist organization, has waged a decades-long violent insurgency against the Turkish state that’s left more than 40,000 dead on both sides. Turkey widened operations against the group following the July 2019 assassination of a Turkish diplomat in Erbil that both Turkey and Iraqi Kurdish officials blamed on the PKK.
In October 2019, Turkey launched a military operation in northern Syria to drive away from its border the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, elements of which Ankara considers terrorists linked to the PKK.