US gave intel for Uludere raid: Report
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Hürriyet photoThe botched air raid by the Turkish military that killed 34 civilians last December was conducted based on intelligence received from an unmanned U.S. aerial vehicle, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported yesterday.
U.S. authorities notified their Turkish counterparts after one of their own drones “spotted the men and pack animals,” according to the report. The location, known as a route frequented by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, prompted U.S. officials to pass on the information.
The U.S. drone flew away after reporting the caravan’s movements, leaving the Turkish military to decide whether to attack, according to an internal assessment by the U.S. Department of Defense, the report said.
“The Turks made the call,” a U.S. officer told the WSJ. “It wasn’t an American decision.”
A report prepared by the Turkish General Staff last month said the intelligence that prompted the operation came from “national sources” but did not identify them.
When asked about the WSJ’s report, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ recalled the ongoing judicial, administrative and military probe over incident, saying the results would be made public once completed.
“I understand this is a newspaper report. This is unconfirmed news,” Bozdağ said in an interview with private channel CNNTürk yesterday. The Turkish Chief of General Staff had not commented on the WSJ’s report late May 16 when the Hürriyet Daily News went to print.
A prosecutor with special authority has been investigating the incident and also a parliamentary panel was established on the issue. The members of the panel have watched the footage provided by the drones.
A report sent by the Interior Ministry to the commission confirmed that the local authorities were unaware of the strike and implicitly put the responsibility on Ankara. Brig. Gen. Salim Cüneyt Kavuncu, who had presided over a unit in charge of evaluating footage obtained from the drones in the Uludere incident, retired in March amid speculation that the move might be connected to the botched air strike.
The WSJ report further reported that U.S. drone flights have been part of the military collaboration between U.S. and Turkish forces since 2007.
The 34 victims at Uludere, most of them teenagers, were bombed after being mistaken for militants of the outlawed PKK, but were actually local villagers involved in the smuggling of small goods from Iraq.
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone had told reporters on Jan. 27 the decision-maker in the operation against the PKK was the Turkish side.
“Regarding Uludere, I can say clearly and uncritically that the United States, both in general and in particular, does not get involved in Turkish targeting decisions. So we have nothing to do with the target selection in Uludere,” he said then. “A target selection is a question that’s up to the Turkish side entirely. And certainly Turkey does have its own capabilities regarding targeting.”
U.S. drones have been providing intelligence to Turkish security sources since November 2007, but Turkey has long been requesting to buy its own vehicles.
Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel told reporters following a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on May 10 during his visit to the United States that he reiterated Turkey’s requests for the unmanned aerial vehicles Reaper and Predator at the meeting.
However, the request faces fierce opposition in the U.S. Congress, according to the WSJ report. President Barack Obama’s administration is supporting Turkey’s request to buy armed and unarmed U.S. drones, but the deal faces opposition from key members of Congress, who worry about the technology spreading, as well as Turkey’s standards for deciding when to launch a strike, the report said. The U.S. Congress reviews such sales in advance.