Turkish troops conducted an offensive, codenamed Claw-Eagle 2, against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Forty-eight PKK members and three Turkish soldiers died in the operation. Following the offensive, Turkish troops made a grisly discovery in a cave, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said. They discovered the bodies of 13 Turkish citizens who had been kidnapped and killed by the PKK.

One Turkish senior security source said to Reuters that nine of the 13 found dead in the cave had been identified: they included Turkish intelligence, military, and police personnel.

Of those killed in the cave, 12 were shot in the head and another was shot in the shoulder. 

“According to initial information that was given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred at the start of the operation by the terrorist responsible for the cave,” Akar said in a statement at a news conference.

The PKK released a statement that said several prisoners, including Turkish intelligence, police, and military personnel, had died due to the fighting in the area. The group denied it had ever hurt prisoners.

Turkey had launched a military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq’s Gara region on February 10 to secure its border and find citizens who had been previously kidnapped. Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, spoke out against other countries for failing to condemn the PKK. He said the 13 abductees had been civilians.

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“PKK attacks Turkish and Iraqi security forces and civilians. It continues its terrorist attacks in northern Syria. The world is silent. This silence is a shameful act of complicity. But we will not remain silent,” Kalim wrote in a post on Twitter.

The PKK has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Syria, Iran, and other countries. Joe Biden compared the group to ISIS in 2016. Russia, however, has refused to label the group as a terrorist organization. The PKK had launched its armed insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in August 1984. More than 40,000 Kurds have been killed in the conflict.

Turkey has launched several operations against the Kurds in both Syria and increasingly in northern Iraq, where the group has a stronghold in the Qandil mountains along the Iranian border.

During the recent Turkish operation, the Turks targeted and destroyed over 50 areas of troop concentrations, ammunition depots, caves, and bases in Gara. Of the 48 PKK members who were killed, three were high-level PKK leaders. 

“The operation has been completed. Our land and air elements have returned to their bases and barracks safely,” Akar said.

Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun made the following statement:

“Terrorism seeks to make room for itself with gun-waving terrorists as well as civilian-looking phonies who support them. Our state and our nation won’t allow that and always deny opportunities to terrorist groups, which have blood on their hands, and those groups that support them.”

“The groups that attempt to make PKK seem legitimate in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq are collaborators of that horde of murderers. The blood of our martyrs is also on the hands of those who refrain from even condemning the terrorist organization PKK and those who omit that treacherous organization’s name in their statements in an attempt to whitewash them,” Altun added.