On Monday 16 January, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants conducted an attack in the Sur district of the south-eastern Diyarbakir province. A blast hit a police vehicle in the vicinity of the Dicle University. The explosion left four police officers dead and at least two others injured. The explosive device had reportedly been planted in the area and activated at the passage of the targeted vehicle. Security operations are ongoing in the area as Turkish forces try to apprehend those responsible for the attack.
The aforementioned attack comes as a stern reminder of the high security risk generated by the ongoing Kurdish separatist insurgency in south-eastern Turkey. Since July 2015, the PKK has been engaged in a nationwide conflict against Turkish forces. The majority of PKK attacks occur in the Diyarbakir, Mardin, Siirt, Sirnak, Hakkari and Van provinces. According to information released by Turkish media in December, the insurgency has so far resulted in the deaths of approximately 840 Turkish security force members and 9,000 PKK fighters. These numbers are contested by Kurdish separatists. It is highly likely that the insurgency will continue in the medium term.
PKK attacks underscore the group’s resiliency in light of persistent Turkish anti-terrorist operations in south-eastern Turkey. Kurdish separatists mainly hit police, military and local administration officials by carrying out targeted assassinations, bombings that involve Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) as well as roadside bombs and suicide bombings. PKK fighters also periodically carry out more complex attacks that may involve the usage of heavy weapons and rocket launchers targeting government facilities and military bases.
While the majority of PKK-related incidents involve Turkish security forces, Kurdish separatist militants have also periodically conducted assassinations against Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials. In a stand-out incident, PKK militants fired four rockets toward Diyarbakir airport (DIY) on 27 August. Kurdish separatists linked to the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) and the PKK have also conducted several high-profile attacks in Turkey’s major cities including Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Kayseri. In 2016, terrorist violence associated to the Kurdish separatist insurgency left in aggregate 133 dead and more than 470 injured outside of the south-eastern main insurgency area. This underscores the high security risk associated with the ongoing PKK insurgency and its potential spillovers in the country’s main urban centres.
It is highly unlikely that the PKK-led insurgency will abate in the coming months. The Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield, started on 24 August 2016 is likely to remain a major factor of animosity between the PKK and Turkish forces in south-eastern Turkey. Turkish military units entered Syria to push Islamic State (IS) and Kurdish forces away from the southern Turkish border. The operation has led to hundreds of fatalities among the Kurdish ranks, according to Ankara. The PKK is likely to respond to this by maintaining a strong operational tempo in south-eastern provinces and trying to push Turkish security forces to engage in costly urban fighting. It is also likely that the PKK and the TAK will try to conduct additional attacks in western and central Turkey in a bid to push Turkish forces to overstretch their capabilities.
The PKK-led insurgency will almost certainly continue to negatively affect south-eastern provinces’ security environment in the foreseeable future. The volume of attacks may decrease during the winter as inclement weather may disrupt main supply routes in mountainous and remote areas. However, Kurdish militants are highly likely to try to continue to exert pressure on Turkish forces in Diyarbakir and the surrounding area. Ankara is responding to the situation by conducting large-scale anti-terrorist operations. These involve ground and air raids as well as the periodic temporary imposition of curfews and exclusion areas. These operations also aim at gathering intelligence to disrupt potential attacks in other areas of the country. Military operations lead to a high risk of confrontation between Turkish security forces and PKK militants.
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