Turkey says it has 'neutralized' 43 Kurdish militants in northern Iraq

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday a total of 43 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had been “neutralized” as part of an operation Ankara launched in northern Iraq 13 days ago.

The Turkish military launched what it dubbed “Operation Claw” in northern Iraq’s Hakurk region on June 27 with artillery and air strikes followed by operations by commando brigades.

The PKK militant group is based in northern Iraq, notably in the Qandil region to the south of Hakurk. Ankara said the operation aimed to destroy shelters and caves used by the PKK and “neutralize” its members - a term it commonly uses to refer to deaths, but also to those wounded or captured.

“43 PKK terrorists have been neutralized as part of Operation Claw, which has continued successfully for 13 days in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

It said 53 mines and improvised explosive devices had been destroyed and 74 caves and shelters used by the PKK made unusable, adding that it had also seized weapons and ammunition belonging to the militants.

Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has said the operation would continue in the region until “the last terrorist is neutralized”.

The PKK insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey began in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict. It is designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the European Union and United States.

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest in parliament, has said such operations create crises and that tens of similar operations in the past have not produced a solution.

Separately, two PKK members, one of whom was on Turkey’s wanted list, were “neutralized” in Turkey’s southeastern Diyarbakir province, as well as five others in the eastern Tunceli province, the Interior Ministry said.

Another PKK member was arrested in Diyarbakir at a traffic checkpoint, the local gendarmerie said.

Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Kevin Liffey