Turkey sends ground forces into Iraq after Kurdish attacks

Turkish jets carried out airstrikes and ground forces crossed into northern Iraq on Tuesday for the first time since 2011 targeting Kurdish militants blamed for a bomb that killed 14 police officers.

Turkey's Iraq incursion comes after Kurdish militants blamed for deadly police bombing

Turkish soldiers stand around the coffins of comrades at the military airport in Van, Turkey, on Tuesday, two days after Kurdish militants carried out a deadly assault. Turkish ground forces crossed into northern Iraq Tuesday for the first time since 2011 to hunt down the Kurdish militants. (Kursat Bayhan/CHA Agency/Associated Press)

Turkish ground forces crossed into northern Iraq on Tuesday for the first time since 2011 in a "short-term" operation to hunt down Kurdish militants, a Turkish government official said, as Turkish jets carried out more airstrikes against rebel camps in the region.

A roadside bomb blamed on the militants, meanwhile, killed 14 police officers in eastern Turkey.

The troops crossed the border as part of a "hot pursuit" of militants belonging to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, who were involved in a roadside bomb attack that killed 16 soldiers on Sunday, the government official said.

"This is a short-term measure intended to prevent the terrorists' escape," the official said on condition of anonymity in line with government rules that bar officials from speaking to reporters without prior authorization.

Kurds blamed for deadly police bombing

Turkey's military has carried out numerous airstrikes and ground incursions into Iraqi territory in pursuit of the PKK over the past decades, but Tuesday's invasion was the first since 2011 and comes amid a sharp spike in violence between the PKK and the security forces.

Forensic officers investigate Tuesday at the site of a roadside bomb blamed on Kurdish militants that killed 14 policemen in Igdir in eastern Turkey. (IHA Agency/Associated Press)

Earlier, Kurdish rebels were suspected of detonating a bomb in the eastern province of Igdir as a police vehicle escorting a group of customs officials to a border gate was passing by, the Anadolu Agency reported. Fourteen police officers were killed while others were wounded in the attack in the province that borders Armenia, the agency said.

The 16 soldiers were killed in a similar attack by the PKK on Sunday. It was the deadliest assault on Turkish security forces since the renewed fighting erupted in July, derailing a peace process with the Kurds.

Earlier, Turkey's state-run news agency said Turkish jets had carried out airstrikes against a group of Kurdish rebels as well as the militants' camps in northern Iraq. It said up to 40 rebels died in the overnight aerial operations.

The airstrikes were confirmed by Firat news, a website close to the rebels.

Anadolu Agency said F-16 and F-4 fighter jets bombed a group of up to 25 PKK rebels believed to have carried out the bombing with improvised explosive devices that killed the 16 soldiers near the border with Iraq on Sunday.

Anadolu said 53 planes were involved in the strikes. 

Protests against PKK erupt in Turkish cities

Protests denouncing the PKK erupted in several cities across Turkey on Monday soon after the military announced the 16 soldiers' deaths. The pro-Kurdish political party said several of its local branches were vandalized during the demonstrations.

Turkish protesters take part in a rally against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the killing of Turkish soldiers in Istanbul on Monday, a day after a deadly attack in Daglica. (CEM Turkel/EPA)

More than 200 people have been killed in the renewed fighting between the PKK and the security forces since July, including around 100 soldiers and police officers.

It comes amid increased political uncertainty in Turkey. The country is holding a new election on Nov. 1 following the ruling party's failure to form a coalition government after an election in June.

The PKK has been fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984. It is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and its allies.