Air strike kills 35 villagers in an ‘operational mistake’
ŞIRNAK / ANKARA
Devastated and somber relatives mourn next to the bodies of 35 villagers who were killed in an air strike by Turkish jet fighters near Turkey’s border with Iraq. DHA photoThirty-five villagers were killed and another was injured in a Turkish military air raid along the Iraqi border on the night of Dec. 28 in what a senior ruling party member declared “an operational fault.”
The assault, which utilized F-16s and unmanned aerial vehicles, was conducted near the Ortasu village of Uludere in the southeastern province of Şırnak, Doğan news agency reported yesterday.
The raid was “an operational mistake” and the ensuing investigation will determine those responsible, the deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Hüseyin Çelik, told reporters yesterday in Ankara after a meeting of the party management.
“According to initial information, those [killed] people were not terrorists but smugglers. The operation was carried out on the presumption that they were PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] terrorists. It was not intentional. Unfortunately, it was an operational mistake,” Çelik said, adding that the ultimate conclusion would be reached once the investigation was complete.
The cross-border air raid was launched to target the PKK following intelligence that terrorist groups had gathered in preparation for attacks on military outposts and bases at the border, the General Staff said in a written statement posted on its website yesterday.
Administrative and judicial inquiries are under way into the operation, which began at 9:37 p.m. on Dec. 28 after unmanned surveillance aircraft detected a group of people in the Sinat-Haftanin area moving toward the Turkish border, the statement said, adding that the bombardment lasted 47 minutes.
Detailing intelligence gathered ahead of the strike, the statement said the authorities had obtained information that “a large number of terrorists were sent as reinforcement to Sinat-Haftanin after the chieftains of the terror organization issued orders for retribution following the losses they had suffered recently.”
Surveillance at the frontier was stepped up after intelligence continued to accumulate indicate that PKK militants would cross from northern Iraq to attack military facilities at the border, it said, adding that images obtained from a drone showed a group moving toward the frontier at 6:39 p.m.
The General Staff said the testimonies of PKK militants who had surrendered in the past indicated that “the terrorists use beasts of burden to carry heavy weapons, ammunition and explosives from Iraq over the border.”
It described Sinat-Haftanin as an uninhabited area where the PKK’s major camps were located.
Çelik conveyed the AKP’s “sorrow” to the victims’ families.
“Turkey is a state based on the rule of law. If it turns out that any fault or any deficiency was involved, all what the rule of law requires will be done,” he said.
Çelik said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had briefed his aides on the issue during the meeting on the basis of talks with the chief of the General Staff, the interior minister and local officials in Şırnak.
“This unfortunate incident will not hamper Turkey’s struggle against terrorism. The struggle will continue until this evil is finished off,” he said.
The bodies of 32 people killed in the air strike were first brought to Ortasu village by their relatives and later taken to Uludere for autopsies. Three bodies kept in Şırnak State Hospital, where one injured villager is under treatment, were also to be sent to Uludere.
Uludere Mayor Fehmi Yanan said the bodies had severe burn wounds, indicating “proof that they were killed by bombs from F-16 fighter jets.”
Doğan news agency said the victims included village guards and students and that 28 of the 35 victims were from the same family.
Smuggling is very common in the region and the most popular goods to smuggle are cigarettes and diesel. A villager told the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency, which is known to have links to the outlawed PKK, that the soldiers in the region were aware of the smuggling business but ignored it “as long as the villagers do not bring arms and drugs.”
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.