PKK shift to urban warfare has mixed results - analysis

Since the conflict resumed in 2015, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has shifted its armed separatist campaign against Turkey from the mountains to urban warfare with mixed success, independent foreign policy analysis site War on the Rocks said.

“Since the beginning of its armed struggle for Kurdish self-determination in 1984, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has predominantly relied on rural guerrilla warfare tactics,” the site said.

“Many observers were therefore taken aback when unprecedented violence engulfed cities and towns in the majority-Kurdish southeast after the ceasefire between the Turkish government and PKK collapsed in July 2015.”

The PKK intended to use this tactic to undermine the Turkish government’s claims to sovereignty over urban areas and increase public support by inviting a disproportionate response, the site said.

“In the long term, however, the PKK garner a longer term advantage from its turn to urban warfare,” the analysis said.

“Fighting in cities attracts much more attention than atrocities in the countryside, and the images of death and destruction in cities like Cizre strengthen PKK’s strategic narrative of a conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish people.”

PKK militants declared autonomous areas in a number of cities in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast at the end of 2015 and dug trenches and erected barricades to defend them. The Turkish military responded with artillery and tank fire in densely populated streets and sent in troops to defeat the PKK fighters in often house-to-house fighting. Large parts of some cities were turned into rubble and scores of civilians were killed in the crossfire or as they sheltered in basements.


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