PKK terrorist organisation: tactics, strategy and the future




The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist organisation is one of the most outspoken terrorist groups present in Turkey, though its purpose and framework is not fully understood by the authorities. On one hand, it is following its separatist and ethnic agenda, and on the other hand, it also uses a religious idiom to carry out violent attacks.

PKK is making complaints that the State is not making any investment in the south-eastern Kurdish populated provinces, and at the same time, it carries out deadly bomb attacks against civilians, local police forces and facilities which prevent the authorities from making any investment in the region. Moreover, the terror climate created by PKK and its recent strategies also changes with each attack, further confusing Turkish authorities

New strategies implemented in south-eastern provinces

Close watch of attacks carried out in August by the PKK in south-eastern provinces suggest the fact that the group has develop a new range of tactics, among whose is abduction. Capture of Turkish soldiers – which were first reported near Diyarbakir –multiplied and spread towards other provinces. 

Intelligence gathered from the ground indicates that this new trend could be confirmed in the weeks to come. Indeed, a report issued by the Turkish security services showed that the PKK - which kidnapped two soldiers and a public health worker last month - plans to take more military and civilian hostages in the period ahead. According to the report, the organisation is also planning another attack on the Dağlıca military outpost, where 12 soldiers were killed in 2007.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Fehman Hüseyin, a PKK leader of Syrian origin, was put back in charge of Turkey’s south-eastern region. He has ordered attacks that will generate wide attention and concern. PKK indeed devised a strategy of large-scale violence to sabotage Turkey’s attempts at drafting a new and more democratic constitution, which will resume when the parliament reconvenes on October 1.

One has to recall that the tactics used by the terrorist group are inspired by its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan, who remains a key figure for Kurdish fighters, although he was captured and sentenced to prison in 1999. His imprisonment did not lead to success in the fight against PKK, and he continues to be responsible for the increasing terrorist attacks fighting for the separatism and identity of the Kurdish population in Turkey. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that he delivered contradictory statements:

  • The last wave of PKK attacks comes in spite of a statement delivered through his lawyers earlier in July, in which he said he had decided to prolong a unilateral cease-fire, a month after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a parliamentary election.

  • Two months earlier, Öcalan threatened to launch “war” unless the government entered into talks with the terrorist organisation. However, instead of the July 15 calls on the cease-fire, there is an opposite attitude by the PKK who has sharply intensified its attacks against police officers.

Quoting several members of parliament, Turkish media pointed out that this fluctuating discourse is making difficult to draw a healthy analysis of the situation, especially as the government is also facing rival factions within the terrorist organization.

Security situation running out of control along Iraqi border

Looking to the situation in the post-election period, there is a little expectation that AKP will change its approach to the Kurdish problem and will be open for a dialogue. The future of the conflict resolution might need a comprehensive approach from both parties, and the role the Kurdish policy-makers might also play a crucial role. However, Kurdish politicians are however playing an ambivalent role in combating terrorism, hence criticising the military operations conducted in the region.

Meanwhile, the PKK has increased its attacks against security forces during summer months. Terrorists killed 13 troops in the Silvan district of Diyarbakır province on July 14 in the highest casualties recorded in a single attack since late 2008. The government and military have been considering ways to respond to such attacks and decided to give more of a role to police in the counter-terrorism strategy. Highlighting the increasing number of military casualties due to terrorist attacks, Erdoğan said the situation would not be tolerated much longer.

In response to the increased number of the attacks by the rebels, authorities decided to resume a bombing campaign against the bases of PKK in northern Iraq, despite of the holy month of Ramadan. In the massive air-strikes of the past week, Turkish warplanes targeted 132 terrorist bases in the mountains of Iraq and claimed to have killed between 90 and 100 terrorists, and injuring another 80. According to the statement by the intelligence units, the military operation of the army will continue in the following weeks.

Besides the growing number of deadly attacks within Turkish borders, the latest turmoil in the Middle East, especially in Syria, could also seriously complicate Turkish efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue. Turkish officials worry that pressure for greater internal democracy inSyria could lead to the growing unrest among Syria’s Kurdish minority. Especially now, when the terrorist organisation that normally does not slow violent attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, out of fear of offending the religious sentiment held by the people of the southeast, has instead increased the deadly violence.

Following the incidents of the past weeks, and the ongoing changes in the tactics of the terrorists, PKK has made it clear that its bloody plan will continue despite of the Turkish military campaign against their bases, as it continued despite of the holy month of Ramadan. Therefore, it is most likely that the rate of deadly casualties will continue to rise, especially in Hakkâri province, as a result of incessant PKK attacks in this region.

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