The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story does not say where the first intelligence came from. It also does not report where the Predator took off from. However, we know that there are four Predators present in Turkey. All of them take off from the İncirlik base near Adana. The intelligence mentioned in the WSJ story came from one of these four Predators.
According to a daily Today’s Zaman story dated Nov. 11, 2011, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
said the command of these Predators was totally under Turkey’s control. Turkey sets their routes and the images they record are shared between Turkey and the United States. However, the order goes like this: First the U.S. sees something and then informs Turkey. The data collected arrives at the Combined Intelligence Fusion Cell in Ankara. Turkish officers are alerted. Then they say: “Fine, everything is under control. You can pull back the Predator.”
There are two points worth noting: Murat Yetkin has written about it. Turkey has applied to purchase armed Predators and while the Chief of General Staff was visiting the U.S., “some people” somehow “got hold” of the American
report. Obviously, the report has been “serviced” to the paper. If somebody wants to sell Israeli-made Herons, this would be the first thing to do. Already, the debate in the U.S. is developing around the axis of “Should we share this data with countries like Turkey?” Just before the decision to buy Predators… The discussion about “The WSJ is doing top journalism and we cannot” should also be evaluated from this point of view.
The second issue is more important: The General Staff was monitoring the – mostly teenagers – 40-person smuggling group with two Herons. In other words, it did not need the information coming from the Predator. The two Herons were above the villagers. One was exactly above them; the other was more to the west. I discussed the subject with the person who has reviewed these images, a member of the Parliament’s Uludere Research Commission, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Levent Gök.
First of all, the images are real: Some 40 people departed their villages. The mules and people are clearly seen. The images last about eight to nine hours. The commission watched them all. The convoy crossed the border. Before they crossed the border, there were some military activities around them. Fireworks were launched, shots were fired.
There was no fear in the convoy; they did not take shelter. They advanced comfortably. After the border was crossed, they met their contacts. Fuel and food were loaded onto the mules, and the convoy started its fatal journey. Gök explained that the commission “froze” at this point because they knew the caravan was nearing death step by step. And the first sortie was done. The caravan was segmented into four groups within a short range of each other. The first sortie targeted the largest group. The Air Force killed them all. Three more sorties were made in 40 minutes. The national feature of intelligence
There are two reasons: First, these Heron images clearly prove that the General Staff considered that it did not need a Predator during the operation. Would you need Predator for a certain segment of the time frame of the group you have already been monitoring?
The reason for it being “national” is different. Gök is a deputy who does not have a military background. Including him, all the other commission members could clearly see that the convoy was made up of smugglers. Some of the military officials who facilitated the review of the images also noted that the images clearly showed that they were smugglers.
Well then, what is the reason for attacking 40 people – most of whom were children – with F-16s? This is the real question. This intelligence is national because both the Heron data and its interpretation are national. According to Gök, the military was obsessed with a group of terrorists and they lost self-control. They regarded those people, who were openly civilians, as terrorists. The real responsible party is the political atmosphere that enables such an interpretation.
I think the issue is not what the military did. The military reports to the government. While the government’s Kurdish policies create an environment where it is possible to regard the student, journalist
and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) politician as terrorists, then the military will indeed be able to regard smugglers as terrorists. I think this is the reason why it did not take into consideration the more detailed Predator data and was content with the Heron images.
The actual problem is not the lack of intelligence; it is the political weakness that has the wrong perceptions and wrong presentations. The responsible party is obvious. If the disability of the military is proved and even if some commanders are dismissed, again, the responsibility for an apology does not fall on the military.
Koray Çalışkan is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece appeared on May 18. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.