* Fighter jets scramble as offensive continues
* Top military commanders oversee operation
* Deadliest clashes for more than a decade
By Seyhmus Cakan
DIYARBAKIR, Sept 14 Turkish armed forces have
killed 75 Kurdish militants near the border with Iran and Iraq
over the past week, a provincial governor said on Friday, as a
major offensive involving air strikes and several thousand
ground troops intensifies.
Eight F-16 fighter jets took off from an air base in the
southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Friday, a Reuters witness
said, apparently to support the operation against militants from
the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
"Anti-terror operations are continuing in the region," the
governor's office in the southeastern province of Hakkari said
in a statement. It said 75 militants and four Turkish soldiers
had been killed since last Saturday.
The past few months have seen some of the heaviest fighting
since the PKK - considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey,
the United States and the European Union - took up arms in 1984
with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state.
More than 700 people have been killed since parliamentary
elections in June last year, making this the deadliest period
since the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, the
International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report this month.
Turkey's chief of staff, the head of its land forces and its
air force commander travelled to the town of Semdinli in Hakkari
to oversee the latest offensive, the military said late on
It said seven battalions were involved. Turkish battalions
typically comprise up to 1,000 soldiers.
Fighter jets and attack helicopters were targeting PKK camps
in two villages in the Kazan valley in Cukurca, a district of
Hakkari province on the Iraqi border, where around 250 militants
are thought to be based, security sources told Reuters.
The 28-year-old conflict has killed more than 40,000 people,
hampered economic development in one of Turkey's poorest
corners, and added to instability in an already fragile region
bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Turkey has stepped up air strikes on suspected PKK rebels in
northern Iraq over the past year and the raids have fuelled
tensions between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Ankara also sees the hand of Damascus in the PKK's new found
energy, accusing it of arming the rebels and allowing a
PKK-linked party to control parts of Syria to prevent locals
joining the 18-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey has raised the possibility of military intervention
in Syria if the PKK were to launch attacks from Syrian soil and
has conducted military exercises on the border in a clear
warning to Damascus.
In its report, the ICG urged Ankara to resist waging an
all-out military offensive, saying that both Kurds - who make up
around a fifth of the country's 75 million people - and Turks
increasingly concede military action will not solve the problem.