Turkish security forces have killed 55 Kurdish militants during a major operation to root out Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels from two urban centres in the troubled southeast, security sources said on Friday.
With the crackdown now in a fourth day, a Turkish soldier was killed in intense clashes with the PKK, the first fatality suffered by the army in the operation, the security sources told AFP.
The operation in the towns of Cizre and Silopi began on Tuesday, with 25 militants killed in first two days.
But the latest figure more than doubled the number of casualties, implying a heavy toll during Thursday’s fighting inside the towns.
The vast operation, which is now in its fourth day and reportedly involves some 10,000 troops, is centered on two towns in Kurdish-dominated Sirnak province where the military has imposed blanket curfews.
The state-run Anatolia news agency said 49 militants had been killed in Cizre and 6 in Silopi. The dead soldier was killed in Cizre.
The government says the operation is needed to eliminate militants who were effectively taking over the towns by building barricades and digging trenches.
But Kurdish activists have accused the army of acting with impunity and pounding large parts of the towns to rubble.
Images from the area show troops clashing with militants in the otherwise deserted streets. Cizre has a population of some 100,000, and Silopi more than 80,000.
The operations mark a new escalation in five months of fighting with the PKK since a two-and-a-half year truce collapsed in July.
The PKK launched a formal insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although it now presses more for greater autonomy and rights for the country’s largest ethnic minority. The conflict has left tens of thousands dead.