updated 10/4/2008 5:49:04 AM ET 2008-10-04T09:49:04

Fighting between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's army and air force in southern Turkey and northern Iraq has killed 15 soldiers and at least 23 insurgents, the military said Saturday, in the deadliest battle between the longtime enemies this year.

Friday's fighting involved a rebel attack on a military outpost in southeastern Turkey and Turkish warplanes, helicopters and artillery units pounding insurgent positions in northern Iraq, Brig. Gen. Metin Gurak, the military spokesman, said in a statement.

He said the Turkish forces were reacting to Kurdish rebel movements detected in northern Iraq and the rebel attack on the military outpost in Aktutun, Turkey, about six miles north of the Iraqi border. The rebel attack followed recent Turkish military claims that the insurgents are being weakened by military offensives.

Firing from northern Iraq
Gurak said most of the 15 Turkish fatalities on Friday occurred at the outpost and were the result of heavy rebel fire from northern Iraq. He did not identify the weapons used by the insurgents, but they often fire mortars and rocket launchers.

Gurak said Turkish forces killed at least 23 Kurdish rebels, but that more may have died during the artillery and air force attacks in northern Iraq. He said Turkish ground forces did not cross the border into Iraq.

In addition to the soldiers killed, two were missing, Gurak said. Kurdish rebels have kidnapped Turkish soldiers in the past during similar attacks.

Deadliest fighting this year
Friday's fighting was the deadliest between Kurdish rebels and Turkey's military this year.

Next week Turkey's Parliament is scheduled to vote on a proposal to extend for another year a mandate giving its military authorization for cross-border operations against Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq. The current authority, which expires on Oct. 17, has allowed Turkish warplanes and artillery to carry out several attacks against suspected Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, and Turkey's army to stage a weeklong offensive there in February.

The military has said the cross-border offensives have destroyed several rebel hideouts, but the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, insurgents have denied that.

The rebels, based in southern Turkey and northern Iraq, have been fighting for autonomy since 1984.

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