Intelligence assessment weakness at Uludere
The decision for the dismissal of the investigation of the military prosecutor last Tuesday about the Uludere incident where 34 citizens died has revealed, in crystal clear transparency, how the decision making process in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) hierarchic structure works at every stage.
The picture that appears before us can be examined as a special incident that could be used as a lesson to avoid certain mistakes being made during the analysis process.
However, we need to take into consideration two factors before we proceed any further. First of all, it is the place which was assumed as the start of a “terrorist activity” on the day of the air strike. This place is in the Haftanin region where intense organizational activity was determined those days, a place surrounded by PKK camps.
The second is that more than one intelligence report has arrived from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) before the days of the incident that the PKK is preparing for a raid in the border region. A recurrent intelligence flow is in question, that one of the leaders of PKK in the field, Fehman Hüseyin was wandering in the region. In short, military officials were expecting a PKK action any moment in that region before the incident happened.
In this environment, the unmanned aerial vehicle (İHA) determined on Dec. 28, 2011, at 5:20 p.m. a heat source that was assumed to be three motor vehicles 6 or 7 kilometers south inside the Iraqi border; the number of vehicles was later increased to seven after 15 minutes. When the data in the decision of the military prosecutor is reviewed, it is noteworthy that military authorities, immediately after seeing these two images taken by the İHA, were gravitated toward the assessment that the expected action from PKK has begun. All military officials of all ranks in consecutive commands who have seen the İHA images joined in the analysis that they belong to terrorists.
Here is an aspect we need to highlight: The drones provide an image of heat source. It is not possible to distinguish precisely whether the image on the monitor belongs to a terrorist or a smuggler. Even though it is so, a certain opinion has been reached in all ranks without any hesitation, without leaving any margin of safety.
Another aspect regarding the images fed by İHA is that the prosecutor has stated that after a while of the first sighting of the vehicles on 5:20 p.m., on 6:15 about 20 heat sources made up of “people and draught animals” from the “east direction” have arrived at the place where motor vehicles were. At 8:20 p.m., this time another group of the same features came from the north.
Military officials, together with ASELSAN experts have shown the members of the Parliament’s Uludere Commission on Feb. 15, 2012 the İHA images recorded that day.
One of the members of the commission from the opposition CHP, Ankara Deputy Levent Gök has written, “As of 6:23 p.m., the human and animal group entering Iraq from the Turkey border were clearly seen. Actually, there was no need to ask any questions to the experts,” in his dissenting opinion he added to the commission’s report. It is apparent that the military officials that monitored the İHA images on the screen of a “movement from the north to the south” (opposite of the possible direction of the terrorists) on the evening of Dec. 28, 2011, have absolutely not considered in any way that this could be a smuggling activity.
The invariable golden rule of intelligence is the indispensability of the human component. Besides, intelligence data collected by technical means should be confirmed by human resources in the field, this is the essential.
The border area where the air strike was made has been the smuggling path of villagers for long years. The military ranks who joined the TSK’s air strike decision, didn’t they know that this area was at the same time a smuggling path?
The first image from the İHA has come at 5:20 p.m. The F-16 dropped the first bomb on the group at 9:39 p.m. There are four hours and 19 minutes in between. In this time period of more than four hours, couldn’t any coordination be made with gendarmerie units stationed at Uludere and top commands who decided on an air strike? Obviously, such a need was not felt.
Did civilian authority approve the air strike?
On the same day, a MGK meeting was held at Ankara. The simultaneity here also brings these questions: Was the decision to make an air strike mentioned at the MGK meeting? Was the civilian authority informed of this operation?
The MGK meeting started at 1:55 p.m. and ended around 7:15 or 7:30 p.m. According to the military prosecutor’s report, after the first image of 5:20, in two hours the decision of an air strike was made in the hierarchy of the TSK. This file was submitted to Second Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar around 7:20 to 7:30. The second chief has phoned the chief who was at the MGK meeting by phone.
This phone conversation must have been made at 7:30 or right after.
We understand that General Necdet Özel was in Çankaya Mansion when he was informed by his headquarters. We can assume that the MGK meeting was either just finishing or had just finished and members were dispersing.
General Özel asked General Akar that the intelligence data and the map be sent to his office in his residence. According to the military prosecutor’s findings, the approval of the air strike has been finalized around 8 p.m.
The heart of the matter here is whether General Özer, before he gave his approval – at the end of the MGK or during its dispersal - did share this information with the civilians in the MGK, for example with the President or the prime minister?
There is no information confirmed on this in any of the documents.
One of the parliamentarians who is totally in command of the file, Ankara deputy Levent Gök claims that the government also approved the air strike.
At the end of the day, all of these details may look unimportant before the weight of 34 people having been killed because of a grave mistake in the assessment of intelligence
Whatever comes next, the duty that falls on Turkey has not been lifted. An act that would suit a civilized state that cherishes human life, that respects the memories of those citizens it has killed accidentally, is to apologize for this mistake.
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which these abridged pieces were published on Jan 10 and 11. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.