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Turkey Eyes U.S. Drones In PKK Fight

Turkish soldiers patrol on a road near the village of Uludere in the southeastern province of Sirnak, 15 kilometers from the Turkish-Iraqi border, in October.
Turkish soldiers patrol on a road near the village of Uludere in the southeastern province of Sirnak, 15 kilometers from the Turkish-Iraqi border, in October.
By Dorian Jones
ISTANBUL -- Ankara is claiming a major diplomatic triumph after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he recently received a commitment from U.S. President Barack Obama to allow Turkey to use U.S. Predator drones.

The drones are seen by Ankara as a decisive weapon in its battle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Kurdish rebel group.

"The atmosphere seems to be that Turkey did indeed receive a positive reply from the U.S. that some of those Predators currently in Iraq will be transferred to Incirlik and potentially made available for the use of the Turkish military," says former Turkish diplomat Sinan Ulgen, a visiting research fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Institute.

Turkish diplomatic sources suggest Washington had resisted for years Turkish requests, citing its need for the drones in its war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Ulgen says Obama is rewarding Turkey for its support in the region, in particular its decision to participate in NATO's antimissile system, which Washington says is aimed at countering threats from rogue states including Iran.

"The big element in this equation was Turkey's acceptance for hosting the early warning radar, for the missile-defense initiative, and now Ankara's policy with regard to  Damascus has been closely concerted with Washington," Ulgen says. "Now the two sides are on the same page -- and [in] part of that overall equation the U.S. gave [a] positive signal regarding...the Predators to Turkey."

The drones are seen as potentially key in the Turkish armed forces' fight against the PKK. Until recently it had used Israeli-made Heron drones. But their use has been severely curtailed since Israeli technical support ended. Ankara severed all military ties in September following Israel's deadly assault last year on a Turkish aid ship, the "Mavi Marmara," seeking to break the embargo on Gaza. According to Turkish media reports, six Herons sent to Israel for repair have not been returned.

Tensions with Israel could still pose problems for Ankara's goal of securing new drones.

"This is not a secret. This topic is being influenced by the Turkish-Israeli relations" said Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security.

A U.S. Predator unmanned drone leaves its hangar at Bagram air base in Afghanistan in 2009.
A U.S. Predator unmanned drone leaves its hangar at Bagram air base in Afghanistan in 2009.

It also remains unclear whether the U.S. Congress would need to ratify the drones' use by Turkey. 

Asked about Erdogan's claim, a Pentagon spokesperson would only say, "The United States strongly supports Turkey in its fight against terror and will continue to work with the government of Turkey to combat terrorism in all its forms."

The spokesperson added that the United States was "committed to continuing our engagement and consultation with Congress on Turkey's defense needs."

The official did confirm that the Defense Department had notified Congress of a "possible foreign military sale" to Turkey of three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters, along with training and logistical support, at an estimated cost of $111 million.

A Pentagon press release said the proposed sale "will improve Turkey's capability for self-defense, modernization, regional security, and interoperability with U.S. and other NATO members."

No Simple Task

Turkey's own defense industry is developing its own drones but has suffered several setbacks; those unmanned aircraft are not expected to enter service until late next year at the earliest.

There is added urgency for the Turkish armed forces with the PKK stepping up its fight, killing 24 soldiers last month in one of the largest and deadliest operations carried out by the group in decades. The attack was launched by the rebels from bases in neighboring northern Iraq.

"The biggest problem for Turkey in fighting against terrorism is the infiltration of PKK terrorists from northern Iraq," says Metehan Demir, a defense journalist for the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet." "Turkey has been trying to take measures to stop the infiltration but always failed. Predators are one of the key instruments to survey the area from the air -- also some of them armed."

According to a Turkish diplomatic source, U.S. drones operating in Iraq are already providing "real-time, actionable" intelligence on PKK members based in Iraqi territory. But that supply of information is likely to end with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq due at the end of the year. The Turkish armed forces are increasingly turning to technology in the  battle against the Kurdish insurgency. Drones are part of Ankara's wider strategy, according to defense journalist Demir.

"Turkey for a long period tried to use soldiers -- thousands upon thousands of soldiers on the rocky mountains on the southeastern part of Turkey," Demir says. "Now we understand it is not that easy to hold the border. Because if you know the area, it is very rocky and mountainous; also, it's a huge border. Therefore you should closely observe and professionally track the terrorists. And this will be possible with the help of technology."

Time Frames And Determination

The Turkish prime minister has indicated that Ankara expects U.S. drones to be deployed this spring at the latest. That would coincide with the deployment of more than 5,000 newly trained elite counterterror police officers and professional soldiers. Until now, much of the fight against the PKK was done by conscripts.

Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, says the success of the Sri Lankan government in its wiping out of a similar decades-long insurgency by the Tamil Tigers group is influencing thinking in Ankara.

"In Ankara among the so-called specialists, antiterror action specialists mainly, for these people the Sri Lankan final solution of May 2009 is very attractive and they think they can do it," Aktar says. "The problem is that the conflict did not start in the so-called Kandil Mountains; did not start with PKK. It's a 100-year-old problem, and it could be solved only at the negotiation table."

The government has committed itself to introducing a new constitution that it claims will address many of the demands of its Kurdish minority. But at the same time, security forces have detained more than 1,000 members of the country's main, legal, pro-Kurdish party under antiterror laws since June's general elections.

Defense journalist Metehan says it's unclear which direction Erdogan is heading in resolving the PKK conflict, but he believes he is determined to do so.

"Some people who voted for Erdogan started to say the only thing that Erdogan cannot solve so far is terrorism, [and] Erdogan is very well aware of such critics," Metehan says. "In behind-the-scenes meetings, he says this issue will be solved as soon as possible during this government's term. Therefore, he can take surprise steps in the coming months. Maybe he will be more nationalist, or he will be more diplomatic. We really don't know, but there is a plan in his mind and we will see this plan in the coming months."

Drones are widely seen as the United States' most potent weapon in its counterinsurgency campaigns, which is why the Turkish Army is attaching such importance to their acquisition. Their deployment, observers say, can only add to those voices who argue that the insurgency can still be defeated militarily.

with additional reporting by Richard Solash in Washington
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by: Jack from: US
November 07, 2011 18:20
Drones or not drones, Turkey will face the same fate in Kurdistan as US government had in Afghanistan - numerous "victories" but total failure and disgrace at the end. Turkey must come to terms with the fact the Kurds do not want to be subjugated by US government-allied turks. No matter how many Kurds Turks and US government will kill, the freedom will prevail and Kurdistan shall become independent

by: Conservative from: USA
November 07, 2011 18:49
Good!

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 07, 2011 20:42
The american concubine anatolian territory some call wild turkey will never succeed in their attempts to exterminate the native population of the lands it unlawfully occupies with or without drones.The kurds are not a minority in the region,they were a majority before the genocide perpetrated by foreign barbarian invading hordes.`Erdogan` has a plan in his mind`-well in order to have a plan there you must have a mind and here no billions of american $$$ or millitary can help.And all his `surprise` steps lead to aplce which will never freeze over.

by: kemal ataturk from: anitkabir
November 07, 2011 22:17
drones would protect the citizens of modern republic of turkey , turks kurds greeks arabs, armenians circasians georgians, azeris etc, against the terrorist group called pkk .
In Response

by: Alex from: LA
November 08, 2011 23:55
hahaha Armenians, they killed off all the Armenians on their land to make it Turkish, why would they protect them. They let Kurds and Turks commit genocide for the gov't past and present. Now Kurds moved in on Armenian Ancestral Land and claim thier. I say F. that and Turks and all their Allies.

by: sam from: sam.jan41@yahoo.com
November 07, 2011 22:44
Turkish teerorist state does not beleive in democracy and have no respect for human right.USA is aware that teerorist state used chemical weapons against kurds and they are supporting this teerorist state by killing kurds freedom fighter.Therefor i do not beleive that USA is a democratic country, and you can not be a democratic if you have no respect for other people democracy and freedom right.USA act it tell that they are denaying kurds right as people live in this earth.Omama backround came from Kynia , and he should know why people suffer in this world , includind kurds, therefor he should respect human right and respect what those people fight for, other wise what sotf of democracy he beleive . Democracy is not only words to say or mention to people , but it is an act turly to defend people who fight for their freedom.But what can we see in USA policy are doing against ture democracy and it is false if yuo build your democracy for your interst .Therefor i hope that american people understan this and fight for ture democracy for all people in the world, and USA support for turkish teerorist against kurds it is against democracy, because if USA beleive and suppotr teerorist state against kurds poor people who are defending their right, this mean USA is also teerorist beleiver and has teerorist policy toward other nation, so in this case the people has the right to defence themselef against USA wrong policy.

by: TURK from: turkistan
November 07, 2011 23:13
I am very proud to be TURK
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
November 08, 2011 12:01
I am even prouder to be a wild turkey.Dear turkey brothers and sisters,please stop talking turkey,drones wont help ya,this time the nukes are coming from Israel to blow ya to Kingdom Come,so while there is still time fall down on yer knees and repent-Allah is akbar and he will forgive even the most miserable sinners like you.Shukran!!!

by: Realist from: CraddleOfCivilisation
November 08, 2011 01:13
Turkey will succeed just like Australia did with the Aboriginals, just like the US did with the Native American Indians and just like Canada did with their natives. You cannot advocate giving independence to the ethnic Kurds in Turkey and in the mean time deny your own native populations independence. Turkey is just as democratic as the US, Australia and Canada. No country is built on one ethnicity. To assert the contrary is to aside with Nazi German policies. The Turks are not arabs nor are they some third world country. The Turks have been at the forefront of European politics for the past 600 years. Their imperial past is no different from that of the United Kingdom, France or Germany. They will not go down without a fight!

by: Marco from: NL
November 08, 2011 10:06
It is amazing to see how much pressure a little country such as Israel can put on the large and powerfull USA! Once Netanyahu said that the American taxpayers' money would serve indefinitely Israel...I guess he was right...

by: Jack from: US
November 08, 2011 13:17
US government exterminated most of Native American population in one of the most brutal and criminal acts of deliberate genocide. Turkey as an ally of US government tries to do the same with Kurds, Armenians and all other minorities and neighbors.

by: robbe from: Istanbul
November 17, 2011 01:25
not rebels but terorist group like al kaide,red brigates e.i.please revise accordingly
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