Minister points at Air Force for Uludere raid

Minister points at Air Force for Uludere raid

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Minister points at Air Force for Uludere raid

The go-ahead for a botched air strike along the Iraqi border last year was given by Air Force commanders in Ankara, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin says. AA photo

The go-ahead for a botched air strike along the Iraqi border last year was given by Air Force commanders in Ankara, Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said yesterday, issuing the most specific statement yet in a debate about who ordered the attack.

“Who gave the order? It was given by commanders of the Air Force in Ankara who analyzed the incident and the images,” Şahin said in an interview with the NTV news channel in reference to footage taken by drones flying over the Turkish-Iraqi border.

Senior ruling party official Hüseyin Çelik echoed the minister’s remarks, saying Parliament’s authorization for cross-border action against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq provided the army with automatic permission to launch air strikes.

However, the minister sought to mitigate the blunder, arguing that the 34 villagers slain in the attack in the southeastern province of Şırnak’s Uludere district were mere “extras” in a broader ploy “orchestrated entirely” by the PKK, saying that there was no reason for an apology in the deaths.

The minister hinted that the 34 villagers, most of them teenage boys, had inadvertently served PKK interests by engaging in the clandestine cross-border smuggling trade, which, he said, was controlled by the PKK and constituted a major source of revenue for the militants. The small goods the smugglers were bringing in from northern Iraq were “definitely” supplied by the PKK.

“When you look at the broader context, there is no ground for an apology. Those youths should not have been there. They would have stood trial if they had survived,” Şahin said. “Further ploys could have been under way. A plan aimed at intelligence deception is possible. Militants of the terrorist organization might have moved with those people and returned safely,” he said.

No case-by-case permission

“Once the authorization is granted, they [the army] are not supposed to ask the prime minister for operation permission each time they spot people here and there. The instructions in this incident were given by the relevant commander. The investigation will establish whether those instructions were accurate or not” Çelik, the deputy chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), told reporters.

Çelik’s remarks came in response to main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who urged Prime Mimister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to resign on May 22 after the latter said he was informed of the raid only after it had ended. Kılıçdaroğlu said the government could not delegate parliamentary authorization to the army and that it had to decide and order cross-border operations. The parliamentary authorization states that “the extent, scope, scale and timing” of cross-border operations are decided by the government.

The controversy over how the strike at the Iraqi border in the district of Uludere unfolded was rekindled by a recent Wall Street Journal report that said intelligence from a U.S. Predator drone was made available to the Turkish Army before the jets took off.

 The raid killed 34 smugglers, mostly teenagers, who were mistaken for members of the outlawed PKK while sneaking into Turkey after having loaded their mules with small goods in northern Iraq.

In further remarks yesterday, Şahin warned that the PKK may step up “surprise attacks” because it was in a state of “stupefaction and madness” after the security forces foiled the group’s plans to orchestrate large-scale unrest in the southeast during Nevruz celebrations on March 21, pointing to the recent shooting of a senior Kurdish member of the AKP provincial branch in Şırnak province as an example.

Asked about the prospect of reviving efforts for a negotiated settlement of the Kurdish conflict, Şahin ruled out fresh talks with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Ankara could hold talks with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) only if it shows that it has “independent will and clout,” he said.