General Overview 

This first section of the general overview about Turkey illustrates the terror groups and their activities within the border of Turkey. In contrast, the comprehensive analysis in the second section covers both terror elements domestically and its border in Syria and Iraq. Global Terrorism Index 2020 positioned Turkey at 18th rank with an improvement of two levels downward compared to GTI 2019. Due to its geographical landscape, Turkey faces security threats at its outskirts and in the cross border areas in Iraq and Syria. In 2021, Turkey's fight against terrorism increased steadily but remained remarkable. Only 26 terror attacks occurred within the borders of Turkey, and all of these attacks were carried out by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its components. [1] Considering the attacks against the Turkish front/forces in Syria and Iraq, there were 191 attacks in 2021. Altogether 217 terror attacks were aimed at Turkey within and outside its borders in 2021.

Map 1: Overall Attacks in Turkey, Syria and Iraq 

Meanwhile, hundred and one terror attacks were prevented even before their execution. Ninety-seven of which were planned by PKK, three by DAESH, and the remaining by the far-left terrorist organization. Besides, in just 2021, 2529 terrorists were neutralized.[2] Widespread use of UAVs and armed UAVs in the fight against terrorism, bloom in the defense industry, the information given by the terrorists who surrendered due to the dissolution of the organization, the critical intelligence provided by the National Intelligence Organization, are cornering terrorists in certain areas, making them unable to move. The neutralization of many terrorists from the organization's leadership contributes to making Turkey's performance better. The distribution of 26 terror attacks carried out by various terror groups within the borders of Turkey is highlighted in Graph 1 below.

Graph 1: Attacks in Turkey by Terrorist Organization

16 security forces casualties were recorded in 26 terrorist attacks within Turkey in 2021. At the same time, four security personnel got injured also. No kidnapping incident was reported in this time duration. At the same time, the gap between the number of deaths (16) and the number of terrorists neutralized within Turkey (2,529) indicates the transformation in Turkey's counter-terrorism strategy (CTS).[3] 

Graph 2: Overall Casualties by PKK, YPG and PJAK in Turkey, Syria and Iraq 

The statistics mentioned in Graph 2 illustrate the triumph of Turkey's comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, which was launched in 2015 and has transformed in these consecutive years. It has weakened and destabilized PKK, YPG, and PJAK within its border. This CTS aims to dilute the terrorist organization's territorial dominance and break down its logistics lines. It further focuses on destroying their shelters and warehouse, obliterating their operational capacity, and reducing their violence threshold through overt and covert operations against their operatives and leaders. 

Considering Turkey's security environment, rural settings constituted 80.7 % of attacks, whereas urban settings had the remaining 19.2 %. Geographical distribution of the attacks in Turkey reveals that Hakkari and Diyarbakir were the two central provinces with the highest number of terrorist attacks. Consequently, it can be estimated that Southeastern Anatolia and Eastern Anatolia regions remained the concentrated center of terrorist attacks, clearly illustrated in Graph 3 below.

Graph 3: Attacks in Turkey by Security Environment 

Comprehensively terrorist organizations in Turkey utilized armed reactions as the most preferred mode of engagement, with 30% of attacks shown in Graph 4 below. In contrast, UAV attacks (15%), harrassing fire (11.5%) and IED (11.5%) attacks were considered second and third preference of attacks.[4] At the same time, the bombing attempts in metropolitan cities such as Ankara and Gaziantep were aimed to create a psychological fear in public. PKK preferred the armed reaction most and sometimes harassing fires to directly target the security forces in the Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia regions.[5]

Graph 4: Attack Type in Turkey 

As per the casualty assessment mentioned in Graph 2, there were 16 casualties recorded in 2021 within Turkey in the attacks carried out by PKK. 34.6 % of total attacks were aimed against tactical and operational military units, 26.9% against tactical and operational military facilities whereas 26.9% were against the social sphere/civilians to create fear. (See Graph 5) Resultantly casualty data illustrates that the target types within Turkey mainly remain Turkey's military and security forces. In contrast, civilians are also targeted at second preference only to create psychological fear in public. 

Graph 5: Attack Target Type in Turkey 

Comprehensive Analysis 

In the second section, a comprehensive analysis examines the terrorist attacks against Turkey altogether with its outskirts in Iraq and Syria; there are 217 attacks. Of the 217 attacks, 151 were carried out by the YPG, 64 by the PKK, and 2 by PJAK, as shown in Graph 6 below [6]. As indicated by the figures, YPG is the prominent spoiler for Turkey's presence in Syria but is the regional ally of the US in its fight against DAESH. The US increasing YPG's attack capacity by providing weapons aid, training, and financial support also resulted in its frequent attacks on the Turkish forces in the region. In addition, the lack of cooperation between the Syrian regime and Turkey in the fight against terrorism contributes to Turkey's inability to make effective use of airpower within the borders of Syria, which is not the case in Iraq.

Graph 6: Monthly Attacks by PKK and YPG in Turkey, Syria and Iraq 

Analyzing the security landscape of Turkey at its outskirts in Syria and Iraq in map 2, 135 out of 191 terrorist attacks took place in rural areas and 55 in urban areas. This excessive approach of carrying out 70.6 % of attacks in rural settings in the outskirts resulted from the failure of terrorist organizations in the trench operations by Turkish security forces and intelligence between 2015 and 2016, which prevented the further weakening of the organization's domestic logistics network.

Map 2: Attacks in Turkey, Syria and Iraq by Security Environment (Circles in red display rural areas, circles in blue display urban areas and circles in black display unknown areas) 

Within Turkey's Syrian outskirts, YPG tactically conducted attacks at Turkey's safe zone area. In this context, a total of 146 attacks took place in the "Olive Branch", "Euphrates Shield" and "Peace Spring" regions. [7] YPG attempted to prove Turkey's safe zone attempt ineffective, weakening its prestige by portraying its incompetence to provide security in these regions, to ultimately seize the dominance of the area where the Turkish presence has withdrawn. In response to Turkey's attempt of unsettling PKK and YPG elements at its border and areas under its control in the north of Syria, these terrorist organizations also reverted to targeting the Turkish military and its security personnel to increase its engagement cost under the covert support by the international actor who opposes Turkey's policy in the region and more specifically in Syria. 

PKK carried out 45 terrorist attacks within Turkey's Iraqi outskirts in the regions between Erbil and Turkey, such as Avaşin-Basyan, Metina, Hakurk, Sinat-Haftanin, which has also become its base area as seen in Map 1.[8] Its attempt mainly targeted Peshmerga forces and Turkish military forces, but civilians also became its victim.

The outcome of intensive military operations is that a vivid fall is seen in the terrorist activities in the rural settings after its peak in May, as seen in Graph 6. Consequently, it has decreased the shelter options for the terrorists in rural areas. So in the winter season, it can be expected that they will make a shift to the urban settings in the coming months if not appropriately catered, which has already marked its beginning since August.

Overall within Turkey and its outskirts in Iraq and Syria, terrorist organizations, PKK and YPG, in the sum of 217 attacks, preferably utilized IED 54 times, constituting 24.8 % of overall attacks. VBIED and armed reactions took the second and the third preference in PKK/YPG/ attacking strategy with 20.7% and 17% of attacks. In the wide variety of attacking designs, missile attacks, mortar attacks, UAV, anti-tank guided missile attacks, harassment fire, SVBIED, rocket attacks, and bomb attacks were used in fewer numbers, as stated in Graph 7 [9]. In contrast, the armed conflict was the most preferred choice last year with 43 percent, arson with 13 percent, and harassing fires with 11 percent. [10] This tactical shift in attack type in 2021 justifies the decrease in the attack capacity and human resources of the PKK/YPG. Resultantly not invested in engaging in an armed conflict, pulling its defense line further back in 2021, both PKK/YPG has concentrated their efforts on attack types involving bombs and explosives to create high casualty and destructive effects. 

Graph 7: Attack Type in Turkey, Syria and Iraq 

Of 217 attacks, 120 were targeted at civilians and 52 against tactical and operational military units. Only 7 of the attacks against civilians and social areas took place domestically, and 113 of them took place in Iraq and Syria. 9 occurred domestically of the 52 attacks against tactical and operational military elements, while 43 occurred across borders. Apart from these, tactical and operational military facilities, militia forces/terrorist groups/non-state armed groups, Peshmerga forces, Tactical and Operational Police Units regularly come under the target radar of PKK/YPG at fewer numbers highlighted in Graph 8.[11]  YPG's first preference is to end the Turkish military presence in the north of Syria. The United States cooperated with the YPG in the fight against DAESH. So, YPG uses this advantage against Turkey to pursue Turkey's diverging security interest from the US in the Middle East. Prioritizing civilian targets in Turkey's safe zone initiative justifies YPG's attempt to undermine Turkey's credibility of providing security to civilians under its controlled areas. Whereas PKK in Iraq mainly targets Peshmerga forces and Turkey's military forces, civilians also get caught in the encounters in the skirmishes of PKK against the latter two actors.

Graph 8: Attack Target Type in Turkey, Syria and Iraq 


Turkey has successfully responded to terrorist threats within its border which are visible in the decreasing number of attacks, weakened organization's operational structure, killing of leadership, surrender, and neutralization of terrorists in massive numbers. The domestic weakening of PKK/YPG has a spillover effect in the outskirts of Turkey in Syria and Iraq in terms of increased attacks and casualties. Furthermore, Turkey has intensified its counter-terrorism efforts beyond its borders by implementing "destroying terrorism at its source" strategy.TAP data reveals that in 970 operations in 2019, 357 (36%) were carried out at the outskirts of Turkey in Syria and Iraq, whereas in 2021, out of a total 821, 674 (82%) operations contributed to the outskirts. From the figures, it can be deduced that number operations increased by percent within two years from 36 to 82 percent. As a result of effective intellectual struggle, the recruitment of PKK has fallen significantly low from five thousand five hundred fifty-eight in 2014 to just forty-eight in 2021, with the total number of PKK's members falling below 180.[12] Diversifying this attempt, Turkish forces aim to eliminate declining public support by introducing such initiative of "Diyarbakır Mothers" to utilize tactics of surrender by persuasion through socio, economic and ideological rebuttal. At the same time, Turkey operates to a depth of 75 km inside Iraq to ensure border security[13]. Even the rear bases are now a possible operation zone resulting in fear, haphazard, and demoralization. This approach of targeting terrorists has an accelerating effect on the organization's dissolution. 

PKK/YPG's increasing attack capacity against Turkish forces in the outskirts of Turkey also resulted from the financial aid, weapons, vehicles, medical supplies, and military training provided by the US under the notion of the fight against DAESH. According to data from open sources, the USA provided combat training to 880 PKK/ YPG terrorists in the first ten months of 2021 and sent 1020 trucks loaded with weapons and logistics materials. As a result, in the east of the Euphrates River, Al Hasakah, Qamishli, and Deir ez -Zur have become campgrounds where the US trains PKK/YPG terrorists on military tactics and techniques such as the use of weapons, raids, and penetration.[14] Turkish security forces have seized weapons of PKK/YPG given to them by the US to fight against DAESH but are used against Turkey. Thus it can be concluded that these aids given to the PKK/YPG organization by the US appear as a significant factor for the organization to continue its existence today.

The year 2022 defense budget draft with the plea of 522 million dollars to be used in Iraq and Syria under the name of combating DAESH (354 million dollars in Iraq, 177 million dollars in Syria) is another alarming dynamic for Turkey to cater to these terrorists and aid being provided to them misused against Turkey within its border and its outskirts as well.[15] In the attempt to control the attacking capacity of PKK/YPG under the context of border security, identifying and neutralizing the domestic collaborators and cells of the organization can be proved effective in preventing the members of the organization flow from rural to urban areas.

Directly targeting PKK/YPG's senior leadership in the first ten months of 2021 in 27 operations resulted in the neutralization of 48, 8 of which were in the red category, 13 in the gray category, and 7 in the orange category. [16] This strategy increased the disintegration within the organization and led to a decrease in the operational mind and capacity of the organization. The crisis of filling the vacant leadership position amidst increasing military operations against them poses a viable challenge for terrorist leaders and fighters to maintain congruence. 


Decrease in domestic terrorist attacks, 

Increase in terrorist attacks carried out across borders

PKKCivilians/Social Sphere




Geographical proximity to unstable states such as Syria and Iraq 2022 US defense budget and its support to PKK/YPG 
Weak but still existing sphere of influence of  PKK/YPG without directly controlling any territoryMaintaining tight border security by identifying, neutralizing, and eliminating domestic collaborator/spoilers with their counterparts in the outskirts in Syria and Iraq
The maintained organizational capacity of PKK/YPG Massive shift in urban attacks 

Compiled by the author. 

[1]Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[2]“101 terrorist acts prevented in 2021”, TRT Haber, 14 July 2021, retrieved from 

[3] “Millî Savunma Bakanlığının Faaliyetlerine İlişkin Basın Bilgilendirme Toplantısı Düzenlendi”, Republic of Turkey Ministry of National Defense, 30 November 2021, retrieved from

[4] Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[5] Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[6]Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP), 

[7] Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[8] Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[9] Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[10]Sibel Düz and Nur Günay, “2020 Turkey Terrorism Index: PKK and DAESH”, TAP Report, Publication No: 8, 2021, p. 12.

[11] Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP) 

[12]“Interior Minister Soylu: Today there are 48 participations in the terrorist organization, in which 5 thousand 558 people joined in 2014”, Anadolu Agency, 22 November 2021, retrieved from 2014te-5-bin-558-person-joined-terror-organgutune-today-48-participation/2427184   

[13]“Operation in a 9-room cave on 75 km wide land”, TRT Haber, 14 February 2021, retrieved from 

[14]“USA provides combat training to PKK/YPG terrorists”, TRT Haber, 7 October 2021, retrieved from 

[15]“First approval for 177 million dollars aid to PKK/YPG”, Sözcü, 26 September 2021, retrieved from (15.12.2021)

[16]Terrorism Analysis Platform (TAP), 

 *The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of Terrorism Analysis Platform.

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