ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Tuesday to expand cross-border operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, following the killing of 13 Turkish soldiers, police and civilians who had been abducted by Kurdish insurgents.
In a speech to his ruling party’s supporters, Erdogan also said that the killings have strengthened Turkey’s will to form a secure zone along its border in northern Iraq to protect Turkey’s frontiers from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The bodies of the 13 victims were discovered in a cave complex in northern Iraq’s Gara region, near the Turkish border, during an operation against the PKK, launched on Feb. 10, that had aimed to free the hostages.
Officials said 12 of the victims were shot in the head and one died of a shoulder bullet wound. The hostages had been kidnapped inside Turkey in 2015 and 2016.
“In the period ahead, we will be expanding our operations — thanks to which we have made a significant advance — to regions where the threats are intensive,” Erdogan said. “The event in Gara has strengthened our opinions about for a safe zone across our borders to protect our people and the state.”
He said: “we will stay in these places which we will secure for as long as it takes so that we are not subjected to such an attack again.”
Turkey has carried out numerous cross border incursions into Iraq over the years to fight the PKK, which maintains bases in the region.
Turkey has long been seeking to form a secure zone along its borders with Iraq and Syria to force Kurdish insurgents away from the frontier.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the PKK began an insurgency in Turkey’s majority Kurdish southeast region in 1984. The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.