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Battle kills 15 Turkish soldiers, 23 rebels

Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's army and air force in southern Turkey and northern Iraq has killed 15 soldiers and at least 23 insurgents.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2008 15:21 IST

Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's army and air force in southern Turkey and northern Iraq has killed 15 soldiers and at least 23 insurgents, the military said on Saturday, in the deadliest battle between the longtime enemies this year.

Friday's fighting involved a rebel attack on a military outpost in southeastern Turkey and Turkish warplanes, helicopters and artillery units pounding insurgent positions in northern Iraq, Brig Gen Metin Gurak, the military spokesman, said in a statement. He said the Turkish forces were reacting to Kurdish rebel movements they had detected in northern Iraq and the rebel attack on a military outpost in Aktutun, Turkey, about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of the Iraqi border. The rebel attack followed recent Turkish military claims that the insurgents are being weakened by military offensives.

Gurak said most of the 15 Turkish fatalities on Friday occurred at the outpost and were the result of heavy rebel fire from northern Iraq. He did not identify the weapons used by the insurgents, but they often fire mortars and rocket launchers.

Gurak said that Turkish forces killed at least 23 Kurdish rebels, but that more may have died during the artillery and air force attacks in northern Iraq. He said Turkish ground forces did not cross the border into Iraq.

In addition to the 15 soldiers killed, two were missing, Gurak said. Kurdish rebels have kidnapped Turkish soldiers in the past during similar attacks.

Friday's fighting was the deadliest battle between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's military this year.

Next week Turkey's Parliament is scheduled to vote on a proposal to extend for another year a mandate giving its military authorization for cross-border operations against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq. The current authority, which expires on Oct 17, has allowed Turkish warplanes and artillery to carry out several attacks against suspected Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, and Turkey's army to stage a weeklong offensive there in February. The military has said the cross-border offensives have destroyed several rebel hideouts, but the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, insurgents have denied that.

The rebels, based in south Turkey and north Iraq, have been fighting for autonomy since 1984.