Intelligence debate between Turkey and the US

Intelligence debate between Turkey and the US

The May 16 Wall Street Journal story ‘Turkey’s Attack on Civilians Tied to U.S. Military Drone’ has put more fuel on the fire of an ongoing debate between the government and opposition on the Uludere incident in which Turkish jets killed 34 smuggling villagers crossing the border from Iraqi after mistaking them as militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on December 28, 2011.

A debate on intelligence failure started right after the attack. At first the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) was blamed by the opposition and the media; MİT had to make a written statement to admit that they had not given any intelligence on the matter.

Then the public’s eyes turned to the military who also said they had nothing to do with the incident but had acted upon the intelligence gathered through unmanned aerial vehicles. The unexpected retirement of a brigadier general working at the command center of the Joint Staff raised doubts but the military said that his resignation date was before the Uludere incident had occurred.

All the opposition parties have been urging the government to reveal whether the source was the United States, Israel or any other country which might mislead Turkey into making such a grave mistake in dealing with the Kurdish problem. All of the demands were put down by the government.

The WSJ report claimed that the first aerial intelligence about a group approaching the Turkish border that night had been received by American Predators (operating from the İncirlik NATO base in southern Turkey) and was immediately passed to Turkish authorities. According to the report the U.S. officials also urged their Turkish counterparts take a closer look at the activity in the area, but they were trigger happy and started to hit targets.

The military source informing the WSJ made another claim that him and “Fellow officers were sometimes troubled by Turkish standards for selecting targets.” The former official said Turkish officers sometimes picked targets based on the notion “guilty by association” in regards to the PKK, the WSJ reported. 

Two things could be concluded from this claim: The Turkish operations units acted on the intelligence immediately without a proper assessment by the political decision making bodies and the report was an excuse not to give Turks the Predators and especially Reapers, the armed version in their fight against the PKK, because they lacked proper mechanisms to use it safely.

What is even more interesting is that the WSJ report came right after a visit by General Necdet Özel, the Chief of Turkish General Staff to the U.S. in which matters of acquiring more support against the PKK were discussed among other important issues like Syria, Iraq and Iran.

On May 17 the Turkish General Staff made a brief written statement saying that the WSJ report was incorrect and that the first intelligence had been received by Turkish UAV’s (Israeli made Herons). That is likely to open another debate on whose fault the Uludere incident was. The military also added that the ‘detailed information regarding the incident had been sent to the inspecting bodies’. 

Speaking of intelligence and operations, it is worth mentioning that the PKK had carried out an attack in the Syrian border province of Hatay on the night of May 16, killing three Turkish army intelligence officers, when Iraqi Kurdish local Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani arrived in Ankara for talks with the Turkish government. Developments are likely to heat up in the whole region.