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Kurdish Rebels Launch Major Attack Near Iraqi Border

Veteran soldiers shout slogans during a protest against the latest attacks by Kurdish rebels against the Turkish military outside Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office in Ankara, Turkey, October 19, 2011.

The Kurdish rebel group, PKK, has inflicted one of most deadly attacks on the Turkish armed forces in recent years - killing at least 24 Turkish soldiers and injuring 16 others near Turkey's border with Iraq.

Using heavy weapons the Kurdistan Workers Party carried out attacks on several army bases in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The attacks occurred in the mountainous Hakkari province that borders Iraq. With as many as 200 rebels believed to have been involved, it was one of largest operations carried out by the group in recent years.

The deadly attack has caused shock and anger in Turkey. Turkish president Abdullah Gul, who only a few days before visited soldiers in the region, promised a strong response.

The state’s decision is to combat terrorism to the very end without ever compromising and with determination,” Gul said in televised remarks. He added, "Senior generals are traveling to the region and forces will do everything they can to put an end to this business.”

That response is already occurring, according to news reports saying Turkish soldiers have crossed into neighboring Iraq in pursuit of the Kurdish rebels.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, October 19, 2011.
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, October 19, 2011.

Turkish Defense journalist Metehan Demir said the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq is challenging.

“The biggest problem for Turkey in fighting against terrorism is infiltration of PKK terrorists from Northern Iraq. Turkey has been trying to take measures to stop the infiltration, but always failed," said Demir.

The Turkish air force is carrying out numerous strikes against those bases. For the last few months, Turkish jets have regularly bombarded the PKK in Iraq, claiming to have killed over 300 rebels.

The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights since 1984. But since ending their cease-fire after this year's June general election in Turkey, fighting has rapidly escalated.

More than 50 members of the Turkish security forces have been killed. The government has threatened to launch a major military operation into neighboring Iraq to remove the PKK bases and thousands of soldiers are massed on the Iraqi border.

Observers warn that the latest attack will only add to pressure on the government to carry out such an operation. With winter approaching the mountainous region, though, the likelihood of any major military incursion is lessening.