Questions about intel in the Uludere disaster

Questions about intel in the Uludere disaster

Debates continue to rage over how the disaster culminating in the deaths of 35 citizens, mostly children, was allowed to happen in Uludere on the evening of Dec. 28 as arguments over which intelligence procedures were followed and at what point the operation was authorized also blaze on; such discussions are clearly set to figure prominently in Turkey’s agenda over the coming weeks and months. 

If we piece the story together in light of all the information pouring out of publicly available sources, we can make the following observations with respect to these questions: 

The PKK was expected to infiltrate through the border: One factor we are definitely aware of is, prior to the incident, Turkish authorities had been presented with solid intelligence reports indicating the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would infiltrate Turkey from the area in question. A statement issued by the Turkish General Staff Dec. 29 said “there was a surge in intel [reports] indicating the PKK would take action toward border outposts and bases,” implying an intensifying flow of intelligence in the same direction.

An informant inside MİT? That this intel came from an informant belonging to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) inside the PKK was a claim raised by Mehmet Baransu of the daily Taraf Dec. 30. Baransu further reported Jan. 2 that MİT had concluded on Dec. 21 that “senior PKK leader Fehman Hüseyin [was] located across in Uludere and might be plotting an incident.” MİT issued further reports confirming these accounts Dec. 25 and Dec. 28, when the Uludere operation was undertaken, according to Taraf. 

PM Erdoğan confirms preliminary intelligence reports: A statement issued by MİT Dec. 30 undermining Taraf’s initial claim that the agency was responsible for the intel was undoubtedly perplexing. Another statement issued by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Dec. 30 also confirmed the intel in question had been provided earlier: “The flight conducted by our unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) was undertaken upon information our intelligence organizations had provided about 10 days ago.” The prime minister, however, also indicated there was no information provided by MİT at the last moment on the day of the Uludere operation.

Warning shots fired first: The UAVs spotted a group moving toward Turkey from the Iraqi border at 6:39 p.m. the evening of Dec. 28, according to the General Staff’s announcement. The target was fired upon exactly three hours later, at 9:37 p.m. The prime minister spoke of “footage nearly four hours long” recorded by the UAVs. Clearly, the group’s movements were being routinely tracked from the air. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also said the group was forewarned prior to the aerial bombardment with signal flares and artillery fire. Land units on the border rolled into action, followed by the F-16s. 

Three-tier intelligence on Dec. 29: A three-tier flow of intelligence took place on the day of the incident, according to Arınç.

1) Multiple sources indicated a group of nearly 50 people were mobilizing to infiltrate the country;

2) This intelligence report was confirmed by a variety of different channels;

3) “The UAVs [subsequently] began tracking the movements. When all these reports matched each other,” the aerial strike was conducted, Arınç said. He stressed reports from a variety of sources pointed in the same direction. This statement, however, seems in conflict with the prime minister’s announcement that “no information was supplied by MİT at the last moment on the day of the incident.” 

Who authorized it? Arınç did not suggest who authorized the operation. The Second Army Command Headquarters in the eastern province of Malatya is in charge of the Iraqi border. The Second Tactical Air Command in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, where the fighter planes took off from, merely followed the orders it was given. An issue yet to be clarified pertains to whether the operation was authorized by the command in Malatya or by the General Staff in Ankara. A discrepancy of some three hours between the initial detection (6:39 p.m.) and the air strike itself (9:37 p.m.) would have given Ankara enough time to get involved in the decision-making process. 

We will continue to stress this matter.