Turkey and Iran launched a joint military operation against Kurdish militants along the the mutual border between the two countries on Monday, according to an announcement from the Turkish interior minister.
Turkey says the two unlikely allies — one a NATO member, the other a target of U.S. sanctions — have joined forces to target a common enemy: the Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK, which the U.S., Turkey and others consider to be a terrorist group.
“We will announce the outcome of the operation later. We will eliminate [the terrorist PKK],” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said as he announced the operation, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
Turkey has long fought the PKK; in recent years, it has also accused the U.S. of backing the group’s allies in Syria by supporting Kurdish rebels near the Turkish border.
The PKK “wants to form an independent state in Turkey’s southeast,” Durrie Bouscaren reports from Istanbul for NPR’s Newscast unit.
“The Turkish military regularly attacks PKK encampments in northern Iraq,” Bouscaren says, “but Turkey’s decision to pursue an operation with Iran appears to be a first. The two share part of Turkey’s mountainous eastern border.”
Discussing the political situation in Turkey, Bouscaren says that with local elections slated for the end of this month, Turkish politicians have increased their verbal attacks on the PKK.
In Iran, news about a joint operation with Turkey has been mixed. State-operated IRNA published a report about the Turkish minister’s announcement, including what looks to be confirmation from Iran’s deputy interior minister. But the same agency also separately reported that an anonymous source within Iran’s military insisted that Iranian forces did not play any role in Turkey’s military operation against the PKK on Monday.