A military evaluation of Turkey’s ‘Claw’ Operations

A military evaluation of Turkey’s ‘Claw’ Operations

By Elif Ilhamoğlu

Turkey continues Operations Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger against the PKK terrorist organization in the north of Iraq beyond the borders.

Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar, stating that Operation Claw-Tiger is continuing as planned and that commandos have been transferred to the areas planned by air strike operation, added that “41 terrorists have been neutralized, besides serious amounts of weapons, equipment, ammunition, electronic equipment and life material has been seized.”

Emphasizing that the anti-terrorist activities will continue until the last terrorist is neutralized, Akar said: “On June 15, Operation Claw-Eagle targeted terrorists’ lairs in the north of Iraq, which were destroyed by our Air Force, a total of 81 targets, all very successful and accurate.”

Former Head of Intelligence Agency of General Staff and retired Lieutenant General, İsmail Hakkı Pekin answered our questions regarding Turkey’s Claw operations.


How do you evaluate the Claw-Eagle and Claw-Tiger operations launched by the Turkish Armed Forces against the PKK?

Turkey has set a strategy that relates to terrorists. This strategy was carried out domestically through Kıran and Kapan operations. Bases that housed terrorists almost domestically have been drastically reduced. The operation areas of terrorists in Turkey have been shortened, and terrorist activities were largely prevented.

The second part of this operation is the mountains. You know our border behind the mountains, so our field of vision at the border is narrow. We pulled the border forward to fix this and essentially prevent the passage of terrorism from the border. This move is strictly for security purposes, not for border regulation. First, we conducted an operation in Kandil and then the Claw-3 operation was performed in 2019. As a result of these operations, base troops were established in the north of Iraq. We now have troops in these bases.

The purpose of Operation Claw is to set up bases on plots that allow observation right at the bottom of the border and to prevent infiltration of terrorists. The PKK has temporary camp sites such as Gara, Metina, Sarp, and Sinat-Haftanin. These places  are used to migrate their staff coming from Sinjar and Kandil to Turkey. Turkey constructed a base to prevent this across the border. This was the goal of the claw operation.

This year, Turkey’s air force and UAVs bombed the camp in Asos and Sincar. As the fourth move, they detected the locations of high-level terrorists with the intelligence operation and destroyed these high-level terrorists with an air operation.

Operation Claw-Eagle is complex and taking place in many regions. The aim is to neutralize camp sites such as Mahmur with air force operations. The base areas, which are close to Turkey and in depth, were neutralized by air force operations.

Control of the Mergasor, Heliz and Siser Hills in the region close to the border was achieved with Operation Claw-Tiger. The goal is to place forward the base area of Turkey by clearing these places.

In other words, the purpose of the Claw operations is to go beyond the border and prevent the border from becoming disadvantageous and establish a zone with security. The goal is to prevent the formation of terrorists threatening Turkey in the region of northern Iraq by establishing security.


Iran also increased the precautions in PKK/PJAK points in the border simultaneously with Turkey’s Claw operations. Border units, search and screening activities have been increased. Do you think the two countries are coordinating against terrorism? Iraq, on the other hand, reacted to both countries and emphasized “sovereignty”. How do you see the attitude of Iraq?

Turkey tells Iraq that it is eliminating  terrorist elements that threaten Turkey within Iraq. Iraq cannot do this because it has no power. Compulsorily, Turkey takes measures on the border of Iraq. Iraq can not do anything to terrorists not only because they have no power, but also due to the necessity of diplomacy which forces them to appeal to this type of activity. This is a diplomatic statement from Iraq. Besides, when Turkey entered Iraq, Turkey used the right to legitimate self-defense according to the Article 51 of the UN, and therefore did not violate sovereignty.

When it comes to Iran, these terrorists are sometimes also involved. The Ministry of Internal Affairs said that the terrorists crossed the Ağrı border. Iran also carried out an operation against terrorists, however, I don’t think these recent operations are coordinated. This could take place on Turkey’s request: Iran could do this in order to prevent perceptions that they support terror, nonetheless, it was not a coordinated movement.

Iran is in a difficult situation; US sanctions, economic difficulties. The US has established bases around Iran. The US trains opposition groups, Sunni radical groups, and these groups are going to Iran. Iran collides with these groups. There may be Kurdish groups among them. When military measures weaken, terrorist activities increase in this region. PJAK attacks Iranian outposts. Therefore, recent operations can be evaluated in this context. In other words, Iran did not want to give terrorist groups carte blanche and increased the measures. Another message of these Iranian Kurdish groups could be: “Turkey is conducting the operation, if you do something against me by joining forces with the US, I will also perform operations against you alongside Turkey.”


Local sources in Syria stated that the Pentagon has transferred military personnel, weapons and military equipment from the Iraqi territory to the Haseke area under the control of the PYD / PKK every day, starting from May 10, 2020. Some of these personnel and equipment will be deployed to restructured bases and control-observation points of the US near Qamishli and Darbazi. How do you evaluate this information? Was Washington restarting its failed ‘US Corridor’ plans? How is Turkey reacting to this?

The US did not give up the idea of establishing a terrorist state in this region. Yes, Turkey conducted operations and prevented the terrorist corridor… He also pushed the YPG 30-40 km south. However, the United States is trying to build an army by PKK in the region (against Syria and Turkey), and building a terrorist state as well as trying to prevent Iran from reaching Mediterranean. To avoid the intervention of Turkey, the US is trying to strengthen those groups.

The US brought together the Kurdish council and those opposed to the YPG (those who did not agree to leave Syria). It brought together a “Kurdish union” by bringing together 25 parties. Now, the US has forcibly combined this formation with the YPG to make the YPG legitimate. Now it is trying to build an army by training them. It trains them around Deir ez-Zor and Qamishli. The aim is to build an army of 60,000 to 100,000 people. With this army, it aims to create a special terrorist state in the region.

There are contested regions in the north of Iraq where it is not clear if they are part of the Iraqi Regional Kurdish administration or the Iraqi central government, such as Mosul Kirkuk Talafar… These are also Turkmen regions. The PKK has set up camp sites around here and tries to control them.

It aims to unite that region, including Qamishli from Syria and Haseke, Iraq, Sinar, and Mosul, and to establish a terrorist state. Continuous equipment ammunition is being sent for this purpose. These materials cross the Iraqi border, and some are placed in warehouses in that area, and some are sent back to PKK camps in Iraq. The PKK is being strengthened against the Iraq central forces, the operation of Turkey, and the forces of Barzani Meanwhile, the US and PKK are trying to get KYB into work to take advantage of the disagreement between KDP and KYB.

Turkey should end this game by closely following this process. From time to time, of course, it tries to disrupt the game with claw operations, but to destroy it, a diplomatic process should be operated with the central governments, as well as with the military operation. Turkey should negotiate with the Iranian government. The game being played is getting too big, and needs to be brought to an end.

The plan to create a garrison terrorism state in Syria continues, the US is preparing for this. The US wants to strengthen the army it has trained and strengthen its hand by sitting on the table with the advantage of armed forces. The United States now unites these 25 parties in Geneva and legitimizes the PYD there. When the constitutional talks begin, both the military and the political plans will be ready. France is also involved. Turkey must destroy these bases by conducting operations for the bases of PKK/PYD in Syria, , maintain control in regions such as Afrin and Jarabulus, even in Idlib. Turkey is trying to make the north of the M4 highway in Idlib security zone.


If you have entered Idlib, then can we briefly learn your opinions about the future of the ceasefire in Idlib?

Idlib is critical for Turkey, 2 and a half to 3 million people in that region will immigrate to Turkey if the ceasefire breaks down. Turkey’s border will become unsafe, because there are also radical elements in the region. Turkey has increased its armed forces in the region after the reconciliation, and is trying to group up the moderate forces that are siding with Turkey. Turkey is trying to bring them under a single command, because they are currently undisciplined. On the other hand, it tries to moderate HTS under one command. The aim is to make the region north of the M-4 highway a safe zone, to give control to the opposing groups there and to prevent terrorist activities.

When the constitutional studies and the political solution begin, we should put the opponents there at the table, attain relevant gains related to the constitution, and have a voice in the political structure of Syria. In doing so, Turkey will have also prevented terrorist activities on its borders.

Ismail Hakkı Pekin
Retired Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakkı Pekin is the former Head of Turkey’s General Staff Intelligence Agency between 2007-2011. He was born in 1951 in Iznik. He is married and is the father of two children.

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June 2021