Clashes between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish rebels have killed 461 people this year in almost 1,000 operations in the country’s southeast, the military was quoted as saying by local media Monday.
Some 373 Kurdish rebels were killed in operations carried out over five months, and 88 Turkish soldiers in the last nine months, the army was quoted as saying by the private NTV television network.
The army has staged 974 operations over the last six months to drive out the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which often stages ambushes against Turkish forces in the Kurdish-majority southeast, according to NTV.
The PKK, considered a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in the southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.
The Turkish army-led operations were concentrated in four southeastern cities of Hakkari, Tunceli, Siirt and Sirnak, according to the army statement released by the channel.
The army launched a major offensive against Kurdish rebels on July 23 that it said early last month killed as many as 115 rebels.
The latest rebel attack in Sirnak which left 30 people dead prompted the army to carry out another large-scale operation in the region last week which local sources said was backed by air power as well as thousands of ground troops.
The Turkish F-16 jets also occasionally violated Iraqi airspace to bomb rebel hideouts inside northern Iraq, they added.
In its latest statement, the military establishment also rebuffed allegations that it was sending under-trained conscripts to strike the experienced rebels, saying 54 among the 88 dead soldiers were professional troops.
Turkish army operations target rebel hideouts inside the country as well as across the border with Iraq, where authorities claim rebels are holed up to launch strikes inside Turkey.
The PKK attacks traditionally increase in the summer, when snows melts in the mountainous zone between Iraq and Turkey, allowing easy passage in and outside the Turkish southeast.
Some government officials further believe Syria’s embattled regime is helping the PKK in retaliation for Turkey’s support for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.