Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has published 10 videos of drone attacks on Turkish forces, signalling a shift towards a new military tactic in the decades-long conflict, Karwan Faidhi Dri wrote for Iraqi Kurdish outlet Rudaw on Monday.
The videos were published by Gerila TV, a website linked to the PKK, which Turkey, the United States and the European Union designate as a terrorist organisation. The attacks have not caused any known casualties, Dri said.
Top PKK official Murat Karayılan obtained a model helicopter in 2009 and “asked an expert from Europe to develop its capacity” to extend its range and allow it to drop bombs, a former PKK fighter told Dri.
While Turkey’s pro-government media first published unproven accounts of PKK drone use in 2016, the first documented use did not occur until 2017, when an off-the-shelf drone was fitted with explosives and detonated at a military base in the southeastern border province of Hakkari, injuring two soldiers, news website Al-Monitor reported the same year.
The PKK carried out 34 drone attacks against Turkish troops between April 23, when Turkey launched air and ground operations into Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, and May 24, the group said in a statement published on May 25. The attacks focused on military bases in Turkey’s Batman and Şırnak provinces, as well as on an air base in Diyarbakır, three of Turkey’s main facilities for air operations, according to Dri.
Turkey’s own extensive use of drones since 2014 has resulted in increased casualties among the PKK’s leadership, according to a report by the International Crisis Group, which tracks the PKK-Turkey conflict and was last updated on June 8. Turkish drones killed a top PKK commander, Zeki Shingali, in Iraq’s Sinjar province in 2018, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said at the time.
Since then, the PKK “has sought to develop some capability to strike strategically-important targets in Turkey”, with the weapons, journalist Paul Iddon told Dri.
The PKK has carried out one-off attacks with one or two drones, which have dropped bombs or diving into their targets, Dri cited security analyst Alex Almeida as saying. “These attacks are mostly an irritant for Turkey and haven’t been very effective, though there are signs the PKK are further developing their drone tactics,” Almeida said.
To combat Turkish drones, top PKK official Cemil Bayık said in April that the group had been working to develop “the type of guerrilla organisation and struggle which can render such high-tech weapons null and void”.
The PKK’s use of drones remains “very basic and primitive”, and the group has yet to develop “anything more sophisticated than commercially available DJI-type drones rigged with explosives”, Iddon said.