The might of the Turkish army launched a cross-border attack against known PKK positions last Thursday night. The attack was in response to Turkish authorities accusing the Iraqi government of failing to stop members of the PKK from using Northern Iraq as a launch pad for attacks in Turkey.
The PKK (Kurdistan Worker\'s Party) was formed in the late 70\'s and launched an armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984 with the objective of creating an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. Since then they have stopped asking for an independent state and have called for more autonomy for Kurds within Turkey. The timing for this ground offensive comes at a very unusual time as the mountainous border area that separates Turkey and Iraq is covered in snow and that there has not been any major PKK attacks inside Turkey for some time. The ability to stop PKK attacks in Turkey through counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare is interesting.
Turkey whose previous COIN tactics reportedly involved the burning down of forests and villages are going to find it challenging to locate and identify PKK targets in an area they are not familiar with, though it does has a lot of experience fighting the PKK on Turkish soil. The Turkish army is the second largest in NATO and is not the most modern with most of its soldiers being conscripts. The army also relies heavily on foreign equipment; interestingly Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Ankara on February 12-13 to urge the Turkish government to buy Israeli spy satellites, UAVs and ballistic missiles. The Turkish army might consider itself a force not to be reckoned with but never underestimate the adaptability of the insurgent. The British army has years of COIN warfare experience and it is still seen to be struggling in Afghanistan today. Turkey must take a step back and evaluate the next best move. Only on Saturday it was reported that the PKK had shot down a Turkish Cobra attack helicopter, what next?
The central issues of the state must be taken into account when developing a COIN strategy. States modernise and in the process fail to pay attention to politics and society and because of this many COIN strategies that have been devised along purely military lines have failed from the outset. If anyone is interested in ready more about COIN operations then I suggest a short reading list of: John Nagl: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife - Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, Colonel Thomas X. Hammes: The Sling and the Stone and the upcoming Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare published by Osprey.