ANKARA, Turkey – Kurdish rebels ambushed a military convoy near Turkey's border with Iraq on Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and a village-guard, the prime minister said.
Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz vowed tough response, as the military launched an air and ground offensive in the largely Kurdish Hakkari province where the attack happened, Turkey's state television reported.
More than 30 Turkish soldiers have died in intensified rebel attacks since July, including one that killed 13 service members in July, leading to a major military offensive in southeastern Turkey.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said armored personnel carriers in the convoy came under rocket fire after being attacked with roadside bombs.
The Hakkari governor's office said the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, detonated four bombs as the unit passed by.
Eight soldiers and a government-paid village guard who was helping troops fight the rebels were killed in the attack that also wounded 11 other soldiers, Erdogan said.
"What is it that they are doing? It's oppression, it's threats, it's terrorism," Yilmaz, the defense minister, told reporters. "The retaliation they will find will be manifold stronger."
Dismayed that attacks are continuing during the holy month of Ramadan, Erdogan this week also hinted at tougher military action against the rebels after the end of the month of piety for Muslims, saying Turkey is at the end of its tether.
Some news reports speculated that Turkey is considering renewed cross border incursions into northern Iraq where the PKK maintains bases. Turkey has frequently launched air strikes or sent soldiers across the border to fight the rebels.
Asked Wednesday about the possibility of a cross-border offensive, Erdogan replied: "These things are not talked about they are done."
The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, is fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.
On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador issued a message of condolence for the soldiers and said the United States stands "with Turkey in its fight against the PKK."