U.S.-Turkish military cooperation not without problems

U.S.-Turkish military cooperation not without problems

Nearly 60 years after the United States and Turkey officially became allies, the two nations have boosted cooperation considerably between their Special Forces to mainly combat Kurdish separatists targeting Turkey. However, Turkish officials complain that this is less than desired especially at the equipment level.

Former President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to provide their Turkish counterparts with electronic intelligence over the Mountain of Qandil in Iraq, which hosts a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) headquarters. The PKK has been attacking Turkish targets since 1984. About 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

After Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened a major invasion of northern Iraq, Bush agreed to intelligence sharing. The sharing has continued until now, but with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq late last year, four U.S. MQ-1 Predator intelligence drones were taken to Turkey’s southern base of İncirlik and are now operating from there now under U.S. control.

Turkey in early 2008 asked for two MQ-9 Reaper drones and four MQ-1 Predators from United States, but the Pentagon’s arm for weapons transfers, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, still has not asked the Senate to approve their sale. The United States has so far only sold the drones to its closest ally Britain, with the condition of their use in Afghanistan. Some U.S. senators have talked about the end to a non-proliferation policy if those weapons are sold to more allies.

Meanwhile, the United States late last year decided to sell three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters to Turkey, who desperately needed them. Turkey presently has six Super Cobras and over 20 less capable Cobra helicopters. But the three helicopters should come from the roughly 170 large-inventory of the U.S. Marine Forces, despite red tape there which had so far prevented their transfer.

Turkey also is building 59 T-129 attack helicopters, Turkish versions of the A-129, with Italy’s AgustaWestland. The first nine should be delivered late this year. Now Turks say that more delays in the transfer of AH-1Ws would make them redundant.

And now there is the bloody rebellion in Syria. The United States and Turkey are on the same side, both urging the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad.

But Turks say that Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama is unlikely to do anything serious against Syria until after the presidential elections in the United States, in which he will run against Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The Americans will likely stay relatively silent until the U.S. presidential elections.

Turkish officials say there is some Special Forces cooperation between Turkey and the United States, about which they cannot speak. “There is some kind of cooperation, about which we cannot speak.”

Erdoğan on July 17 dismissed claims by a Syrian minister who blamed four countries, including Turkey, for a deadly bombing in Damascus on Wednesday that killed top Syrian security officials, saying his country would never think of such a move. Earlier in the day he went to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said July 17 that the responsibility for the Damascus bombing “falls directly on the hands of the Arab and Western governments, their intelligence agencies and their spies.” He said the bombing was orchestrated by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi and Israeli intelligence and wouldn’t go unanswered.

Meanwhile, Turkish officials have blamed the United States for failure to deliver requested modern weapons. Turkish President Abdullah Gül said May 22 in Chicago, on the sidelines of a NATO summit, that Turkey’s request to purchase U.S. Predator drones is bogged down in Congress, with some members blocking the sales as Obama pushes for approval.

Fighter jets such as F-35s and F-16s, which Turkey buys and helps to build with the United States, are a lot more dangerous than the armed drones sought by the military, Gul said.

The Turkish government is putting more resources into developing Special Forces police units to help replace inexperienced conscripts fighting in the country’s Kurdish southeast and to establish a second special forces unit outside the regular military.

Currently, there are 250,000 troops stationed around outposts in provinces bordering Iraq and Iran, where most of the battle takes place. About 50,000 of them belong to the police forces.

Principal weapons used in the fight against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party are unmanned aerial vehicles and attack helicopters. Currently, these are exclusively used by the military, but the plan is to equip Special Forces police units with these assets.