This time, the Turkish military command called it “Operation Winter Eagle.” On Tuesday evening, for hours, the air operation simultaneously struck three symbolic places for the democratic confederalism envisioned by PKK leader Ocalan: the Makhmour refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan (the cradle of that political system); Rojava in Syrian Kurdistan (its first large-scale implementation); and Shengal, the majority-Ezid region of Iraq (its first implementation in a different ethno-religious community).
Hours of bombing during the night, against villages and civilian communities and a camp of 12,000 refugees under siege; which continued Wednesday with air raids on the whole of Rojava, from east to west, with about 20 communities targeted with both drones and heavy artillery.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke of an operation against the PKK and its affiliates between Syria and Iraq, which are considered terrorist groups by Ankara. In a statement on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, the minister gave an account of the end of the flash operation (which, however, does not appear to be over at all), celebrating the return of the planes, “safe and sound.” As if in Kurdistan they had any anti-aircraft systems to stop the Turkish fighters.
According to Akar, “a large number of terrorists have been neutralized.” The 60 fighter planes involved bombed 80 targets, he added. In Derik, in northeastern Syria, where Turkey targeted a power plant, four SDF members were killed; three civilians were killed in Shengal, where villages and 21 self-defense positions of YBS forces were hit; eight died in Makhmour, including civilians and members of the Kurdish refugee camp’s self-defense force. At least 10 civilians were killed in al-Bab on Wednesday.
Images published on Wednesday on social media by Kurdish agencies and local activists show the destruction. In Shengal, the Autonomous Administration held a press conference in a crater, among the rubble of one of the struck buildings.
The attack came while in the main cities of Rojava, from Kobane to Qamishlo to Derik, the funerals of the 121 victims of the assault of the Islamic State on the prison of Sina’a, in Hasakah, were being held: 77 members of the prison staff and 44 fighters of the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Thousands took part in the commemorations, among the coffins covered by kefiehs with the colors of Kurdistan and the faces of those killed.
The Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria claimed there was a direct link between the failure of the Islamist assault and “Operation Winter Eagle”: “These attacks were conducted because the hopes Turkey had placed in ISIS were dashed,” Salih Muslim of the Democratic Union Party told the ANF Agency. “It attacked when ISIS was driven out of Kobane. When ISIS loses, the Turkish state increases its attacks.”
Tuesday night’s operation was so high-profile—militarily and politically—that this time it provoked the reaction of the Iraqi central government, which condemned the raids and the blatant violation of airspace and national sovereignty (also violated by the presence of Turkish bases on its territory, a reality for years). Such attacks usually happen in the silence of Erbil and Baghdad. It is no coincidence that on Wednesday, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barzani, was in Ankara to meet the Turkish President Erdogan.
Erdogan himself is making no excuses, but is happy to own the attacks. He did so on Wednesday in a speech to the Confederation of Young Turkish Businessmen, a sort of youth association: “When I said we would enter the terrorists’ hideouts, some didn’t take (me) seriously. Now we have entered their nests. Last night they couldn’t find a hole to run to anymore.”