PKK’s last stronghold in Turkey gets support from Syria

Experts says Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeastern town of Nusaybin is a very strategic location in Ankara's fight against the PKK.

al-monitor Riot police use tear gas to disperse pro-Kurdish demonstrators during a protest in the southeastern Turkish town of Nusaybin, on the Turkish-Syrian border, Nov. 7, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.

Topics covered

ydg-h, turkey’s syrian policy, syrian conflict, pkk, kurds in turkey, diyarbakir, bombings, bomb detectors

Apr 13, 2016

One southeastern Turkish town where sustained clashes continue between the security forces and the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] is Nusaybin. Prolonged clashes in the town abutting the Syrian border and unexpectedly heavy casualties suffered by security forces have made Nusaybin a focal point in Turkey.

Security experts say the delay in ending operations in Nusaybin and the heavy casualties suffered there are due in large part to its geographical location, saying Nusaybin is very different from other areas of operations. The experts say its proximity to Syria is the main reasons clashes continue to drag on.

For example, Yuksekova, Cizre and Silopi are away from the border; this has allowed security forces to encircle the communities and sever militants’ contacts with their rural forces. But Nusaybin is practically adjacent to Qamishli, a Syrian town heavily populated by Kurds; this enables the PKK to receive logistical support from across the border and hampers the efforts of Turkish security forces to impose control over the area.

Nusaybin, which has become the PKK’s laboratory for urban warfare, is labeled as the "last stronghold" by the PKK leadership; hence it has made extraordinary efforts to keep fighting there.

The PKK brought professional bombing experts trained in northern Iraq to Nusaybin. Intelligence sources say there are about 20 bombing experts in the town now.

The PKK, known as a "learning organization," is carefully implementing the lessons learned in earlier operations elsewhere.

In the Sur district of Diyarbakir, the PKK gave priority to using snipers because of narrow streets. In Nusaybin, because of its wider streets and avenues, the PKK has opted to use explosives and booby-traps to prevent the rapid and all-too-effective incursion of armored vehicles of security forces. Discovering that the use of such explosives was an effective method of inhibiting the security forces, the PKK prepared a wide variety of bombing ambushes.

The PKK has been able to inflict casualties on security forces by planting explosives in the walls of houses, in gardens and under pavement stones. Three days ago, two police explosives experts who had dismantled an explosive device were killed when another bomb they hadn’t detected exploded. Nusaybin in a way has become a town sitting on explosives; this explains the delay in winding up operations.

Experts say a failure to keep control of areas cleared from the YDG-H, the Kurdish armed youth movement, in the first operations at Nusaybin is one key cause of the delays experienced now. At that time, instead of bringing reinforcements from outside, security forces sent some of its Nusaybin units to Derik and Dargecit and thus lost what might have been firm control of Nusaybin.

The prolongation of operations has enabled increased intervention from the outside. Foreign fighters known to be in the PKK are becoming familiarized with the terrain in Turkey. Moreover, not knowing how many explosives the PKK has and who is supporting its operations has also impeded effective operations,

Finally, the reported dispute between the governor of Mardin, Omer Faruk Kocak, and military officers commanding the operations has surely contributed to the apparent stalemate.

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