BRUSSELS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union led a chorus of Western condemnation of Kurdish rebel attacks on Turkey on Wednesday, voicing support for Ankara as its forces launched retaliatory air and ground assaults in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Obama vowed to continue U.S. cooperation with Turkey in facing the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which killed 24 soldiers in simultaneous raids on seven remote army outposts on Turkey’s rugged southeastern border with Iraq before dawn.
Turkish forces quickly responded with air and ground assaults on Kurdish militant camps over the border in Iraq.
“The United States will continue our strong cooperation with the Turkish government as it works to defeat the terrorist threat from the PKK and to bring peace, stability and prosperity to all the people of southeast Turkey,” Obama said in a statement.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern over the attacks and said the EU continued to view the PKK as a “terrorist” organization.
“I was appalled to learn of today’s shameful terrorist attacks in Turkey by the PKK. I condemn them in the strongest terms, and deeply regret the loss of life,” Ashton said in a statement.
“I stress once again that the EU stands with Turkey in its resolve to fight against terrorism.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement “there is no justification for such acts of violence” and that NATO “stood in solidarity in the fight against terrorism” with member Turkey.
The PKK attacks were condemned by the leader of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan and himself a former leader of guerrillas who fought Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, condemned the raids as a “criminal act.”
“This action is first and foremost against the interests of the people of Kurdistan. We call for an immediate end to these attacks,” said Barzani’s office in a statement.
France, in condemning the raids, called on Kurds on the Turkish side of the border to disassociate themselves with the PKK following its deadliest attack in decades.
“France calls on those elected representatives of the Turkish population of Kurdish origin to clearly distance themselves from the terrorist violence of the PKK,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
“These terrorist attacks only strengthen France’s will to stand side by side with Turkey in the fight against terrorism and to support the efforts to find a political solution to the Kurdish question.”
Despite the strength of Turkey’s response to the raids, private risk analysts in London said they doubted the military assault would last long or succeed in eliminating PKK camps in northern Iraq, where the militants are well-entrenched.
Turkish retaliatory attacks on PKK camps in northern Iraq could struggle to inflict big losses on the group, said Julien Barnest-Dacey, a Middle East analyst at Control Risks.
“The PKK has long withstood Turkish military onslaughts and I don’t expect a fatal blow on this occasion. It will remain extremely hard for Turkey to incapacitate the PKK so long as they can claim refuge in the Iraqi mountains,” he said.
Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group, said: “Any land operation is likely to be short-lived and stop well short of a full-scale invasion.”
Both experts said the PKK attacks dealt a serious blow to prospects for talks between Ankara and Kurdish nationalists.
Yet Turkey was unlikely to be able to stop future raids with military force alone, said analyst Carina O‘Reilly at IHS Jane‘s.
“We’ve seen all this before, and the snows are due, so my immediate response was to expect airstrikes and hot pursuit but not much else,” she said.
Reporting by Peter Apps, John Irish and Ibon Villelabeitia; Writing by Roger Atwood; Editing by Sophie Hares