Foreign Drones Take to Libya’s Skies to Shatter Military Stalemate

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, August 7, 2019

“Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar’s three-month old offensive to take Libya’s capital of Tripoli has bogged down, forcing Libya’s would-be ruler to look to air operations to break the impasse. Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA, nominally representing the House of Representatives rival government in Tobruk) and the forces of the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) have both turned to foreign-made and operated drones to advance their struggle for dominance. The fact that these drones violate a UN arms embargo and their operators are probably foreign nationals highlights the increasing proxy nature of the conflict in Libya.

Bloodbath in Murzuq

On August 4, drones likely operated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on behalf of the LNA targeted a meeting of some 200 local dignitaries gathered in Murzuq’s al-Qala district to discuss intercommunal violence. The result was 43 dead and more than 60 injured. The LNA confirmed the strike on Murzuq, but claimed it had targeted “Chadian opposition fighters,” a euphemism used by the LNA to refer to the indigenous Libyan Tubu, a non-Arab ethnic group found in southern Libya, northern Chad and eastern Niger. [1] The massacre followed an LNA airstrike in June that struck a migrant detention center in Tripoli, killing 44 migrants.

Chinese Drones over Misrata

Chinese Wing Loong II Drone (

GNA forces in Misrata (north-west coast) announced the downing of one of the UAE’s Wing Loong II drones on August 3, adding that LNA warplanes unsuccessfully tried to destroy the drone before it could be retrieved by the GNA (Libya Observer, August 3, 2019). The drone was equipped with Chinese Blue Arrow 7 laser guided missiles, some of which were recovered by the GNA. The UAE has used the Chinese-built drones in Yemen and in last year’s LNA siege of Derna in eastern Libya. Misrata is a stronghold of anti-Haftar forces.

Wreckage of the UAE Wing Loong II Drone Downed Near Misrata (

The UAE was the first export customer for the Wing Loong II, which is comparable to the US General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, but sells for a fraction of the price ($1 to 2 million vs $30 million) (, November 10, 2018). The UAE’s drones deploy out of al-Khadim airbase in eastern Libya, which was expanded in 2016 to accommodate UAE air operations.

New Turkish Drones

Bayaktar TBII Drone System

On July 25, the LNA declared it had brought down a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone during an attack on al-Jufra Airbase, held by the LNA since June 2017. There was speculation that the craft may have been downed by one of the UAE’s Russian-made Pantsir S1 air-defense systems that have been spotted alongside LNA forces in Libya (, July 25, 2019; Jane’s 360, June 19, 2019). The Bayraktar TB2, with a flight endurance of 24 hours and a payload of 150 kilograms, can carry out reconnaissance, surveillance and attack functions day or night. Twelve Bayraktar drones have been sold to Ukraine with another six purchased by Qatar (Daily Sabah [Istanbul], June 24, 2019). The GNA is believed to have obtained the drones in June or early July.

Destroyed Ilyushin Transports in al-Jufra (

Two Ukrainian Ilyushin IL-76TD transports were destroyed in the drone strike on al-Jufra. The planes were two of five such transports belonging to Kiev’s Alfa Air and were produced between 1990 and 1992 (Libya Observer, July 28, 2019). The GNA also claimed to have destroyed ammunition depots and a hanger containing drones, though the LNA issued an unlikely claim that the aircraft were not delivering weapons, but were solely allocated to carry pilgrims to Mecca (Anadolu Agency [Ankara], July 26, 2019; Libya Herald, July 28, 2019).

Al-Jufra Region and Airbase (Libya Observer)

PC/GNA authorities claim al-Jufra Airbase is a gathering and provisioning point for mercenaries from Sudan and other nations involved in the assault on Tripoli as well as a launch point for foreign military aircraft (Libya Observer, July 30, 2019).  A spokesman for the PC/GNA’s military deployment (Operation Volcano of Rage) claimed the attack had killed 42 LNA members, adding that their artillery now had the Jufra airbase in range (Libya Observer, July 28, 2019).

Italian Commandos in al-Jufra

In retaliation for the strike on Jufra, Haftar’s forces struck Misrata airport with missiles the next day, the fifth such attack in 15 days (Libyan Express, July 27, 2019). After the strikes, the LNA declared that the raid had revealed the existence of an Italian military base, but the presence of Italian military personnel in Misrata has been known for several years.

Italy sent Special Forces units to Libya in August 2016 to support Tripoli’s efforts against Islamic State terrorists. The Italian deployment included members of the 9th Parachute Assault Regiment, the Italian Air Force, counter-terrorist specialists from the Carabinieri and commandos from the Comando Raggruppamento Subacquei e Incursori Teseo Tesei, a unit of Special Forces frogmen named for Major Teseo Tesei, who died in a 1941 human torpedo attack on Malta (Italian Insider, August 11, 2016).

Italy announced in April that its forces would remain in Tripoli and Misrata despite the launch of the LNA offensive to take Tripoli and, eventually, Misrata. The current deployment is believed to consist of 100 personnel in Tripoli and another 300 in Misrata (Arab News, April 9, 2019).

A LNA drone struck Misrata’s Air Academy on August 6. The LNA claimed to have struck a military cargo plane carrying ammunition, but local GNA-affiliated forces insisted the plane was a civilian cargo plane that had landed only minutes earlier (Libya Observer, August 6, 2019).

UAE Russian-Made Pantsir S1 Air Defense System in Yemen – Now in Use by the LNA?  (

GNA-aligned General Osama Juwaili warned that that the airport at Bani Walid (southeast of Tripoli) could be targeted next if it continued to be used by “Haftar’s gangs” as a military base for LNA fighters and mercenaries after the LNA lost Gharyan to GNA forces (Libya Observer, July 30, 2019).


It is unlikely that local Libyan forces are capable of operating the drones, suggesting an active military presence by both Turkish and Emirati air force personnel. Libya’s drone warfare illustrates the increasing internationalization of the Libyan conflict and its use as a proxy battleground. Perhaps most disturbing is the likelihood that Libya is also being used as a testing ground for new weapons technologies at the expense of its civilian population. The cynicism of the international community in its approach to Libyan bloodshed eight years into a seemingly interminable civil conflict hardly suggests that compromise and reconciliation will carry the day anytime soon. In the meantime, extremists and terrorists will make the most of the ongoing chaos to entrench themselves in Libya’s ungoverned regions.


  1. For more on the LNA’s conflict with the Murzuq Tubu, see: “Is Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army Carrying out Ethnic Cleansing in Murzuq?” AIS Special Report, July 20, 2019, .

After Nice: Where and How to Find Islamic State Terrorists in Europe

AIS Special Guest Commentary

By Dr. Emrullah Uslu

Virginia International University

July 16, 2016

In this special guest commentary, Dr. Emrullah Uslu, a former counter-terrorism officer in Turkey and authority on ethnic and religious violence in the Islamic world, addresses the question of why current counter-terrorism efforts are failing to detect the presence of “home-grown” terrorists before they strike. Dr. Uslu believes security resources could be better deployed in spotting radicalization as it happens and suggests several ways in which this can be done.

Emrullah 1


Following quickly on the attack in Istanbul, yet another terrorist attack in Nice has reminded us to go beyond the everyday discussions on terrorism, assimilation, and immigration to focus on the efficiency of Western counter-terrorism efforts.

Looking at broader issues such as Muslim assimilation, Western imperialism and colonialism will not help in the short-term fight against home-grown terrorism. Focusing on millions of immigrants in Europe and trying to find the terrorist among them is similar to trying to find a needle in the haystacks. Rather, we should focus on jihadist networks, how they operate, where to locate them, and how to prevent them obtaining weapons.

First we need to focus on how and where to find ISIS or Al-Qaeda sympathizers.

Though many believe that conversion of young Muslim men or women to radical Islamic ideologies and subsequent recruitment into terrorist networks happens in remote corners of Western cities, these converts join terror networks right in front of our eyes. They join terror networks under the roofs of maximum-security prisons, fitness clubs and schoolyards.

They metamorphose into monstrous terrorists right in front of our eyes. Many families who do not wish their children to become a member of terror networks are well aware of their children’s transformation into jihadists.

The only terrorist activity conducted in secrecy is planning a terror attack. Before the planning stage, a terrorist can be easily detected in various spots at various times.

What is wrong with our counter-terrorism perspective?

One example appeared in a recent Guardian story that described how many Muslims are radicalized in French prisons. However, immediately after Charlie Hebdo, the French government announced that it was putting €425m into anti-terror measures – mostly personnel and equipment for the security forces. Yet no attention was given to France’s prisons to monitor the transformation of their inmates. Where, then, are these efforts being directed?

After the November attacks, President François Hollande instituted a state of emergency under whose provisions civil administrators – not judges – have ordered more than 3,000 searches of premises and issued 400 house arrests. The targets of these measures have almost all been Muslims (as are most of the subjects of the bag searches and frisking that police carry out in town centres) and almost none have been accused of any terrorism-related crime as a result. The effect on civil liberties has been crushing, and Muslims across the country have complained to human rights organisations that they are being systematically profiled (Guardian, March 17, 2016).

It would have been much effective than bag searches if French authorities were searching the networks inside prisons, and tracking those who were radicalized in prison after they are released.

Whenever, there is a terrorist attack in any Western country the natural reaction is to increase security measures, and send counter-terrorism units to do more searches and more raids into “suspected” neighborhoods.

As a former counter-terrorism officer, I would call such measures a PR campaign rather than counter-terrorism measures. After a horrific terror attack, most politicians feel that they need to calm public anger, and the easy way to do that is to show some muscle by increasing security measures and ordering counter terrorism raids. However, counter-terrorism has more to do brain activities than showing muscle.

Almost no attention is being paid to prisons at this time to understand who reacts and how when they hear news of a terror attack.  For realistic counter-terrorism efforts European nations need to develop programs to train prison staff to identify the radicalization process in prisons.

Second, most radical Islamists are affiliated with boxing and fitness centers or ethnic coffee shops. They are regulars at these facilities.  However, law enforcement agencies focus on mosques and masjids to find terrorists. Of course, some mosques and masjids are preaching radical Islamic ideology, however it is not the preaching that turns a North African Muslim man or women into a terrorist, it is how they socialize and share that teaching that makes them join terror networks.

Therefore, instead of paying more attention to the mosques, law enforcement officers and the public should focus on private sport facilities, such as boxing saloons, fitness centers etc. At least in these centers, it is easy to detect a member’s transformation into radical Islamic ideology.

Emrullah 2Third, most schools in Europe can be a perfect spot for starting counter-terrorism investigations. I am aware of the delicate relationship between law enforcement activities, education, and democratic rights. By no means am I suggesting bringing in police officers, or setting up counter-terrorism offices, or hiring informants from students or teachers at schools.  However, there are ways to establish early warning systems to detect whether a student or his siblings are exposed to radical Islamic ideology.

When a student at a certain age changes his attitude toward national symbols, starts struggling at academic or social activities, missing classes, or reacting to certain issues, there should be a warning system to prevent those students from falling into radical Islamic traps. School officials should be trained to notice the radicalization process at school level and act proactively to prevent these kids from becoming the next generation of terrorists.

Last but not least, most families in Europe don’t want their kids to join terrorist organizations. However, most of them are unfamiliar with the radicalization process. Worse, there is no legitimate authority in the eyes of those families in Muslim ghettos to explain how the radicalization process works.

Most Muslim families in Europe become happy when their naughty kids start praying and attending religious activities. The problem arises when radical Islamists are the ones who convince the kids to pray. Here, by no means am I suggesting every kid who starts praying is affiliated with radical Islamists. However, sudden devotion to the faith, a sudden disappearance from home, unexpected socialization with new social groups or political arguments at home could be signs of the radicalization process at work.

Given the fact that most Immigrant families don’t trust law enforcement agencies, schools can be the only legitimate institutions to inform parents about the radicalization process. I would like to give you an example from Turkey.  When Turkey faced a terrorism challenge in universities where terror networks were operating to recruit ethnic and sectarian minority students, the Turkish National Police cooperated with the Higher Education Council to conduct an information campaign.

The Turkish National Police counter-terrorism department prepared a brochure to inform students and parents of the recruitment strategies and means of approach used by terror networks to draw in new university students, and the Higher Education Council agreed to mail the brochures with the university entrance exam results.

Parents learned how terror networks approach their children and what kind of behavioral changes they can expect and detect if their children are being exposed or swayed by terrorist propaganda. As a result, many families started cooperating with police to prevent their children from joining terrorist organizations.

Terrorism is a full time job for terrorists in that they constantly think of how to kill us. We, our society and our institutions must respond by doing what is necessary to prevent terror networks from stealing our children’s lives from us.

About the Author

Dr. Emrullah Uslu is a full-time professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia International University. He holds a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science from the University of Utah. He also holds an MA in Criminal Justice from the City University of New York, an MA in Journalism from Ankara University in Turkey and a Bachelor of Arts from the Turkish National Police Academy in Ankara, Turkey.

Dr. Uslu is a Turkish terrorism expert who focuses on Islamic and ethnic violence. He worked as a policy analyst for the Turkish National Police’s counter-terrorism units and headquarters; he also served as a researcher for the Ministry of Interior. He has also worked as a policy analyst for the Washington, DC-based Jamestown Foundation.

His Turkish-language book Deep State Threat Map: Kurds and Islamists addresses Turkey’s extra-legal approaches to Kurdish militancy and Islamist groups. Dr. Uslu has published many articles and book chapters on terrorism and Middle East politics; his most recent article, “Jihadist Highway to Jihadist Heaven: Turkey’s Jihadi Policies and Western Security,” appears in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and addresses the recent terror trend in Europe.

His book in Turkish called Deep State Threat Map: Kurds and Islamists, addresses Turkey’s extra-legal approaches to Kurds and Islamic groups.  Dr. Uslu’s  has been published many articles and book chapters, on terrorism and Middle East politics. recent article  Jihadist Highway to Jihadist Haven: Turkey’s Jihadi Policies and Western Security, in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism addresses the recent terror trend in Europe.

He is often quoted by international media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Al-Jazeera, the Guardian, London Times, and the Asia Times, as well as other national and major Turkish media outlets.

Somalia’s al-Shabaab Targets Turkish Nationals in Mogadishu

Andrew McGregor

April 19, 2013

A series of terrorist attacks in Mogadishu on April 14 may represent a last-ditch attempt by the leadership of the Salafi-Jihadist al-Shabaab movement to prove it is still capable of taking the Islamist insurgency to the new federal government in the face of growing internal dissent and expulsion by African Union troops from its lucrative holdings in Mogadishu and the southern port city of Kismayo. The specific targeting of Turkish nationals in one of these attacks also demonstrates al-Shabaab’s rejection of Turkey’s growing influence in the rebuilding state.

Turkey SomaliaThe Taliban-style attack on a busy courthouse in downtown Mogadishu on April 14 began with a car bomb exploding at the building’s gate, followed by as many as nine men in Somali army uniforms firing automatic weapons as they rushed in. At least three of the gunmen blew themselves up with suicide vests while the remainder were killed in a three-hour firefight with Somali security forces and Ugandan AMISOM troops (Reuters, April 14). Twenty-two others were killed at the scene, most of them soldiers.

At roughly the same time, a vehicle packed with explosives targeted Turkish vehicles in an AU/Turkish Red Crescent convoy on the airport road, killing a Somali driver and injuring three Turkish aid workers (Andalou Agency [Ankara], April 15; Mareeg Online, April 14). A Shabaab spokesman contacted a pro-Islamist website to confirm the attacks in Mogadishu were carried out by al-Shabaab’s “Special Forces” (Somali Memo, April 14). Al-Shabaab spokesman Shaykh Ali Mahmud Raage also told a French news agency that the attack on the courthouse was “a holy action which targeted non-believers who were meeting within the court complex. We will continue until Somalia is liberated from invaders” (AFP, April 14).

There are reports that Somali investigators believe the deceased leader of the courthouse attackers was a Canadian citizen who left Canada for east Africa four years ago (Toronto Star, April 14; National Post [Toronto], April 15). This news follows reports that as many as four young Canadian citizens were involved in the deadly attack by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on foreign workers at the In Aménas gas plant in January.

The attacks in Mogadishu continued the next day, with a roadside bomb failing to kill the district commissioner of Mogadishu’s Heliwaa District as he drove to work (Shabelle Media Network, April 15). Security sweeps on April 15 detained hundreds of young men in the capital on suspicion of being al-Shabaab operatives (, April 15; AFP, April 15). Somali president Hassan Shaykh Mohamud described the attacks as “nothing but a sign of desperation by the terrorists, who’ve lost all their strongholds and are in complete decline right across Somalia” (Mareeg Online, April 14).

Divisions within al-Shabaab became public on April 6, when an open letter to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri from a leading Shabaab member was published on jihadi websites. Penned by Shaykh Ibrahim Haji Jama “al-Afghani” (a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Zayla’i), the letter reaffirmed the movement’s allegiance to al-Qaeda, but outlined growing differences between Somali members of al-Shabaab and foreign fighters who are accused of failing to abide by the Shari’a code  (Africa Review [Nairobi], April 18).

A veteran of fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan, al-Afghani also cited the failed leadership of Shaykh Ahmad Abdi Godane “Abu Zubayr,” who has replaced many capable military and religious leaders with members of his own Isaaq clan from northern Somalia. Al-Afghani (himself an Isaaq) asks for al-Zawahiri’s guidance as the movement stands to lose everything if the losses endured under Godane cannot be reversed: “We have witnessed an obvious drawback in the achievements of the mujahideen. Ten states were under the rule of the movement four years ago, which came with the possession of huge human resources and the sympathy of our Muslim people. Now, the jihadi spirit has receded and the motives for creation and production have been destroyed” (, April 15). Al-Afghani goes on to complain that the movement’s internal divisions are now being exposed on social media such as Twitter.

With al-Shabaab having turned to terrorist methods since being driven from the capital by Somali and AMISOM forces in August 2011, Somali president Hasan Shaykh Mohamud warned that after al-Shabaab was defeated, “they changed their war tactics and we want all Somalis to prepare themselves for a new war against al-Shabaab. I know it will be costly, but we need to exercise our patience until we crush them” (Hiraan Online, April 15).

The attack on the Turkish aid workers appears to imply a rejection of Turkey’s growing engagement with Somalia. The attack also confirms al-Shabaab’s takfiri ideology and dispels speculation that Somalia’s Islamist militants might take a more open view to development assistance from a country with a Muslim majority.

The ground-breaking August, 2011 visit to Mogadishu by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was widely seen as a sign of Somalia’s return to the international community and his pledges of Turkish reconstruction assistance represented a show of support from fellow Muslims. Somalis used to ineffectual UN relief and reconstruction efforts run from offices in Nairobi have marveled at what Turkish aid and development workers have accomplished in less than two years on the ground in Mogadishu. Temporary hospitals with Turkish doctors serve the community, schools have been built (which incidentally offer Turkish language courses), the airport reconstructed, streets cleared of debris and students sent to Turkey on scholarships (Reuters, June 3, 2012). Somali police officers are already graduating Turkish police academies and an agreement on military training is in place (Today’s Zaman, November 9, 2012). Turkey’s interests are not related solely to aid, however; strong efforts have been made to revitalize and legitimize Somalia’s business community, much of which has operated without permits, regulation or taxation through years of political chaos. A series of reforms will be required before commerce and financial transactions with Turkey’s well-organized business community can begin.

Chaille-LongColonel Charles Chaillé-Long

Ottoman contacts with Somalia go back to the mediaeval period and intensified in the 19th century when the Egyptian Khedive sought to expand his empire (under Ottoman suzerainty) into the Horn of Africa, establishing short-lived bases at Kismayo and Barawe (Brava) and going so far as to send an exploratory mission up the Juba River under the command of a British naval officer, McKillop Pasha, and two American Civil War veterans, Colonel Charles Chaillé-Long and Lieutenant Colonel William H. Ward.

Ankara has also pledged increased levels of aid to autonomous Somaliland and is hosting and facilitating a new round of reconciliation talks in Ankara between the unrecognized breakaway state and the rest of Somalia. Turkish investors have initiated a number of economic projects in Somaliland and Turkish oil exploration company Genel Energy PLC is planning to begin operations in the region (Today’s Zaman, April 14; Anadolu Agency, April 15).

While engagement with Somalia promises access to resources and new markets for Anatolian industries, Turkey’s growing involvement in places such as Libya and the Horn of Africa is part of a larger Turkish geo-political offensive in the African continent that is part of Ankara’s vision of Turkey as an advanced non-Western state ready to embrace its Ottoman heritage (with conditions) and resume its place as a vital and important international player. However, the targeting of Turkish nationals displays al-Shabaab’s determination to impose its own version of a Salafist theocracy on Somalia regardless of economic realities and the desperate conditions endured by many Somalis.

This article was first published in the April 19, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Shock Waves Continue from Mysterious Suicide Blast at U.S. Embassy in Ankara

Andrew McGregor

March 21, 2013

In terms of scale alone, the February 1 suicide bombing that killed a Turkish security guard and injured a Turkish journalist outside the U.S. Embassy in Ankara was a relatively minor event that did not succeed in causing any significant damage to the embassy itself. Nonetheless, the attack carried out by left-wing militant Ecevit Sanli has created political and diplomatic reverberations throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Ankara Bombing 1Marxist Suicide Bomber Ecevit Sanli

Though suicide bombings are most commonly associated with Islamist groups, Sanli was a long-term member of a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary group that adopted the tactic of suicide-bombing in 2001, the Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi (DHKP/C – Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front). After several years of inactivity following the death of founder Dursun Karatas in 2008, the Marxist-Leninist group suddenly renewed activities in September, 2012.

In the embassy attack, Sanli is reported to have used an electric detonator to set off six kilograms of TNT strapped to his body. The suicide bomber had previously been imprisoned for an attack on an Istanbul barracks in 1997. After three years in pre-trial detention, Sanli engaged in hunger strikes with dozens of other prisoners in Istanbul’s Umraniye Prison in 2000 to prevent their transfer to one of Turkey’s feared F-Type prisons, which emphasize social isolation in modern, sterile institutions, an environment that prisoners refer to as “white torture.”

Mass hunger strikes have been common in Turkey’s high-security F-Type prisons. Scores of prisoners have died in these events, while Sanli and hundreds of others subsequently suffered from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a degenerative brain disease better known as “Wet Brain.” Caused by thiamine deficiency, the syndrome is common in chronic alcoholics and individuals who have engaged in extended hunger strikes. F-Type Prisons are reserved for terrorists, political prisoners and organized crime leaders. The DHKP/C has been prominent in leading prison hunger strikes. Turkish intelligence has suggested that the DHKP/C used militants suffering from terminal illnesses in a number of suicide attacks carried out in the last seven months (Today’s Zaman, February 4).

Released on parole after an eight month hunger strike, Sanli eventually disappeared and was sentenced to death in absentia in June, 2002 (later reduced to life in prison). Sanli next appeared in Germany in September, 2002, where his application for political asylum was denied after his record of terrorist acts came to light. Germany, however, refused to deport him to Turkey for fear he might be tortured. By 2011 he had lost the right to reside in Germany and was ordered not to leave Cologne (Der Spiegel [Hamburg], February 11). German intelligence continued to track Sanli’s whereabouts in Germany but lost sight of him last October. It is believed that Sanli planned the Ankara attack while still in Germany.

Anger is growing in Turkey over the alleged failure of various EU states, particularly Germany, to cooperate with Ankara in bringing an end to the use of European nations as bases for extremist groups carrying out terrorist operations in Turkey (Today’s Zaman, February 5). Germany’s reluctance to extradite suspected Turkish extremists was brought up only days after the bombing in talks between Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler and his German counterpart, Hans-Peter Friedrich (Hurriyet Daily News, February 14).

According to the DHKP/C claim of responsibility that followed the embassy attack, “Our warrior [Sanli] carried out an act of self-sacrifice by entering the Ankara embassy of the United States, murderer of the peoples of the world” (Today’s Zaman, February 4). The statement went on to condemn Turkey’s close security relationship with the United States, citing issues such as the installation of Patriot missiles and NATO’s creation of a radar base at Kurecik that Iran claims is intended to defend Israel, not Turkey (Milliyet, February 10).

Shortly after the attack, President Abdullah Gul revealed that Turkey’s security services had information in January that the DHKP/C was planning an attack, but “unfortunately it could not be prevented and the attack against the embassy took place” (Hurriyet Daily News, February 6). Turkish police are searching for two other DHKP/C members who entered Turkey alongside Sanli from a training camp in Greece. There are fears the two may be planning further suicide attacks (Zaman Online, February 17). A statement issued earlier this month by the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT – Turkey’s national intelligence organization) warned Istanbul policemen that the DHKP/C was using internet search engines, Facebook and Twitter to obtain the photographs and addresses of police officers (Milliyet, March 4).

The Police Intelligence Department revealed at a recent parliamentary hearing that a 2008 DHKP/C plot to attack the home of Prime Minister Erdogan and a 2009 plan to assassinate former justice minister Hikmet Sami Turk had been foiled by electronic surveillance. The information was given during a hearing in which the police defended their use of wiretaps by claiming 284 terrorist attacks had been stopped and 138 “bombers” arrested in the last three years (Hurriyet Daily News, February 24). Many Turks are puzzled by the persistence of what one local columnist called “rogue groups with absolutely no foundation in society,” and tend to see the hand of Turkey’s “deep state” structure behind the resiliency of Turkey’s terrorist groups, including movements that appear to be still fighting the Cold War, such as the DHKP/C (Today’s Zaman, February 4).

The prior knowledge of an impending DHKP/C attack mentioned by President Gul may have been the reason why Turkish security forces cracked down on the group in the weeks before the bombing, arresting over 80 suspects. After the attack, the crackdown intensified. 167 people were detained in country-wide raids on suspected DHKP/C members on February 18. Many of the detainees were identified as professionals or public servants belonging to the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), whose offices were also raided. The raids uncovered documents containing the license numbers and identity information of Ankara judges and prosecutors who have worked on DHKP/C-related cases (Hurriyet Daily News, February 19, February 20; Today’s Zaman, March 11).

Ankara Bombing 2A March 14 raid in the Okmeydani neighborhood of Istanbul was resisted by the occupants of a fortified DHKP/C safe-house, who endured tear gas while trying to burn documents. Twelve people were detained, six of whom were reported to be under 18. The occupants of the safe-house were said to have illegally tapped into electricity, water and natural gas supplies. A gathering of socialists protested the arrest later that day and were dispersed by Istanbul police using pepper spray (Today’s Zaman, March 14, March 15).

Greece, which has usually refused to extradite suspects to Turkey, appears to have re-examined its approach in the wake of a March 4 meeting between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After the meeting, Samaras was reported to have ordered the closing of two DHKP/C training camps in the Lavrion and Oropo regions. The movement is now said to have moved its headquarters to an apartment in Thessaloniki (Daily Star [Beirut], March 9; Hurriyet Daily News, March 9). Greece has also promised to extradite the elusive Zeki Gurbuz, leader of the Marksist Leninist Komunist Parti Turkiye (MLKP) and a DHKP/C member identified only as “S.E.” (Today’s Zaman, March 15).

Various theories have been advanced to explain the motivation behind the attack on the U.S. embassy, some based on the belief that the DHKP/C is a “deep-state” legacy working as a subcontractor for other extremist groups or intelligence agencies in order to raise funds for their own operations. If this is the case, there are three possible clients for the embassy attack:

  • Syria, as a covert effort to harm the United States, but with a message attached for Ankara regarding its pro-rebel position on Syria. Turkish security analyst and Jamestown contributor Nihat Ali Ozcan pointed to a possible connection between the bombing and the development of a proxy war between Turkey and Syria: “It is no secret that during the Cold War, Syria hosted Marxist-Leninist movements. When Turkey changed its stance against Iran and Syria, everybody started to look at the old files to see ‘what kind of networks we had’” (Hurriyet Daily News, February 18).
  • Iran, as part of a larger proxy war against American interests. The attack would also convey Tehran’s dissatisfaction with Turkish policies in Syria.
  • Kurdish rebel commanders belonging to the Parti Karkerani Kurdistan (PKK), as a message to Ankara that they will continue operations even as the government enters talks with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The DHKP/C is rooted in Turkey’s Alevi community, a sectarian affiliation including Turks, Kurds and Arabs and comprising approximately 10 percent of Turkey’s population of 75 million people. Alevism is a syncretic faith that, like Alawism, combines elements of Shi’ism, Christianity and pre-Islamic rites and beliefs. Alevis, who are generally strong supporters of Turkish secularism, have been under pressure from the AKP government for several years to conform to Sunni orthodoxy (EDM, October 12, 2007).

Analyst Nihat Ali Ozcan has suggested that the DHKP/C’s Marxist allegiance is of less importance than its “ethnic-sectarian identity”; “There are some homegrown organizations in which most members share a common allegiance to the Alevi faith beneath the cloak of Marxism… Accordingly, with the end of the Cold War, the true colors of the DHKP/C were derived not from Marxism, but from this kind of sectarian identity” (Hurriyet Daily News, February 7).

Turkish-Egyptian Naval Exercises Recall Muslim Dominance of the Eastern Mediterranean

Andrew McGregor

Terrorism Monitor, December 22, 2011

The combined fleets of the Ottoman Sultan and his Viceroy in Cairo once dominated the eastern Mediterranean.  Beginning in the 19th century, the forces of European imperialism and Arab nationalism began to drive apart the two anchors of Muslim supremacy in the region. Political separation and defeats at sea were followed by a steep decline in naval capacity in both nations. Now, however, new political trends are bringing the Turkish and Egyptian navies together again to restate their military potential in the face of challenges posed by new rivals such as Israel and Iran.

Ottoman Navy 1The Ottoman Navy

The naval exercises, code-named “Sea of Friendship 2011,” began December 17 and are scheduled to finish on December 23 (Turkish Radio-Television Corporation, December 15).  Turkey is acting as the host nation and the exercises will take place in Turkish waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Egypt’s contribution in terms of ships and personnel is the largest yet in the series of three Turkish-Egyptian annual naval exercises. According to Turkish sources, the Egyptian force will consist of two frigates, two assault boats, one tanker, a helicopter and an underwater assault team, while the Turkish contingent will consist of two frigates, two assault boats, a submarine, a corvette, a tugboat, two fast patrol boats and an underwater assault team (Anatolia News Agency, December 15).

Despite growing tensions between Egypt and Israel, the commander of the Egyptian Navy, Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish, publicly insisted that the naval exercises are not directed towards anyone, but were rather part of an ongoing effort by Turkey and Egypt to maintain peace and security in the region (Ahram Online, December 15). A Turkish press release emphasized the development of mutual cooperation and interoperability between the Turkish and Egyptian fleets (, December 15).

The naval exercise with Turkey follows the Egyptian Navy’s biggest live ammunition war games in its history on October 30 in the seas off the coast of Alexandria. Aside from a number of coordinated operations between the navy’s air and sea assets, the games also provided an opportunity to introduce new speedboats to the Navy (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], October 30).

In August, Turkey pulled out of a scheduled naval exercise with Israel and the United States for the second year in a row following the Israeli attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May, 2010 (Jerusalem Post, August 6). In September, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a decision to increase Turkey’s naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean in light of the attack on the Mavi Marmara and Israeli gas exploration operations in Cypriot territorial waters disputed by Turkey. At a conference held in Tunisia, Erdogan said “Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you’ll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea” (AFP, September 15). Ankara is also challenging the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

There have also been suggestions that the exercises will present a show of force to Iran as it pursues an aggressive Middle East policy. Turkish friction with Iran over the conduct of Syria’s repression of its growing internal political opposition has increased in recent weeks, with Iranian leaders suggesting that the Turkish government’s Islamist model is unsuitable for the Arab world (al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 15). Threats from Iranian military leaders that NATO air defense system bases in Turkey would be attacked in the event of an Israeli/American strike on Iran have further aggravated relations between the two regional powers.

Ottoman Navy 2Egyptian Yonca-Onuk MRTP-20 Fast Interceptor

Egypt is in the process of taking delivery of the first of six Turkish-built Yonca-Onuk MRTP-20 (Multi Role Tactical Platform) fast interceptor boats. Some of the boats are being built in yards in Istanbul, while others are being built in Alexandria with technology transfer agreements. Egypt is the fifth country to purchase the MRTP-20, which features the ASELSAN – STAMP weapons system (STAbilized Machine gun Platform), a remote-controlled system which its builders say is designed to defend against asymmetric threats on land or sea-based platforms.

The Egyptian Navy is also preparing to take delivery next year of four Fast Missile Craft being built in Pascagoula, Mississippi by the VT Halter Marine company under a Foreign Military Sales deal worth $807 million. The missile ships will each carry a 76mm gun, Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles designed for use in littoral waters, MK49 Rolling Airframe surface-to-air missiles and a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) for self-defense (UPI, October 27; AP November 1). Capable of doing 34 knots per hour with a crew of 40 sailors each, the ships are intended for use in the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the coastal waters of the Mediterranean.

As Turkey’s former strategic alliance with Israel begins to fade away, Ankara appears to be turning towards the new Arab regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to strengthen its expanding role in the Middle East. Efforts to increase military cooperation through exercises such as “Sea of Friendship” represent important steps in spreading Turkish influence and exerting a more independent post-Mubarak foreign policy in Egypt.


  1. For STAMP, see: Undersecretariat of Defense Industries Export Portal, International Cooperation Department, .

Turkish Intelligence Says al-Qaeda Planned Rocket Attack on U.S. Air Base

Andrew McGregor

April 22, 2011

Turkish security services claim to have learned of an al-Qaeda plot to use rockets to attack U.S. military aircraft at the Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey. According to intelligence collected by the National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati – MIT) and the General Directorate of Security (Emniyet Genel Mudurlugu), the plot was to be carried out by two Syrian members of al-Qaeda identified as Abu Muhammad al-Kurdi and Salih Battal (Today’s Zaman, April 6).

IncirlikThe Incirlik Air Base is located just outside the city of Adana and is used jointly by the U.S. Air Force and the Turkish Air Force (Turk Hava Kuwetleri). It is the permanent home of the U.S.A.F.’s 39th Air Base Wing, which acts as the host unit for American air operations using the base. Incirlik has played an important role in U.S. military and intelligence operations from the Cold War through to the war in Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks dated June 8, 2006 said that Turkey had allowed Incirlik to be used as a refueling stop for U.S. aircraft involved in the CIA’s rendition program (Guardian, January 17). Incirlik is also thought to be a forward storage site for U.S. nuclear weapons.

The revelations were followed on April 12 by a series of raids in Istanbul and the eastern province of Van on the homes of suspected members of al-Qaeda and Turkish Hezbollah, a largely Kurdish Islamist militant group involved in the torture and murder of hundreds of members of the Kurdish socialist Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) rebel movement in the 1990s.

Forty-two suspects were detained by police in Istanbul and a further ten in Van. Turkish authorities said that one of the detainees was the alleged head of the Turkish chapter of al-Qaeda, Halis Bayancuk, a graduate of Cairo’s al-Azhar University and a former member of Turkish Hezbollah. He was charged with leading a terrorist organization in 2008, but released less than a year later (Today’s Zaman, April 14; Turkiye Radyo Televizyon [TRT], April 12).

In a recent move that outraged Turkish public opinion, a Turkish court ordered the release in January of at least 25 members of Turkish Hezbollah alleged to have been involved in the brutal murders of PKK members and rival Islamists. The release was ordered under a new law that states detainees cannot remain imprisoned for more than ten years without a trial. The case against the suspects was complicated by numerous allegations that Hezbollah operated as a covert arm of the state’s efforts to crush Kurdish separatism and Islamist challenges to the officially secular Turkish state (Hurriyet, January 7; BBC, January 23, 2000). Turkish authorities did not state whether any of those arrested were involved in the January release (Reuters, April 12).

The obvious importance of Incirlik Air Base to the furtherance of U.S. foreign policy interests in the region has inspired a number of Islamist militant cells to plan attacks on U.S. facilities at Incirlik. In 2002 four Arab-Americans were arrested in Detroit on charges of operating a terrorist cell. Sketches of the Incirlik air base were found in their apartment (Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2002; Washington Post, September 15, 2002). There are reports that Osama bin Laden suggested that a Turkish militant cell attack U.S. facilities at Incirlik, but the would-be attackers were dissuaded by the tight security at the base. They then turned their attentions to softer targets, bombing two Istanbul synagogues in November 2003 (Independent, December 18, 2003. There were further warnings of an imminent attack by suicide bombers or hijacked planes in February 2006.


This article first appeared in the April 22, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turkey’s Opposition to Military Intervention in Libya

Andrew McGregor

March 17, 2011

Ankara continues to forge an independent identity for its foreign policy by rejecting calls from some NATO partners for military intervention in the Libyan rebellion. Of all the NATO nations, Turkey has the closest historical and economic ties to the North African nation, a relationship that dates back to the period of Ottoman rule in Libya (1551-1912).

Mustafa KemalMustafa Kemal (left) and Libyan Troops, 1911

Turkey has adopted what it describes as a “principled approach” to the crisis in Libya, though it is certain that political chaos and uncertainty do little to further Turkey’s economic relationship with Libya, which now includes more than $15 billion worth of projects in Libya employing 25,000 Turkish workers and bilateral trade worth $2.4 billion in 2010. Ankara’s measured response to the Libyan insurrection was described by Foreign Ministry deputy undersecretary Selim Yenel: “Turkish foreign policy is based on the rule of law, justice, human rights and universal values. At the same time, we have concerns for the large Turkish expat community in Libya. We have to be very careful in our approach and not risk any reprisals against our citizens or the harming of our interests” (Today’s Zaman, March 6). Though some 20,000 individuals (including non-Turks) were evacuated from Libya by Turkish ships and aircraft, there are believed to be several thousand Turkish nationals who have chosen to remain in the country.

While Turkey was the first country to call for Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to step down, it has not taken this approach in Libya. Unlike other NATO countries, Turkey has maintained official and even informal contacts with the Libyan regime during the rebellion, with Prime Minister Erdogan disclosing he had called Qaddafi personally to discuss the crisis and to urge the Libyan ruler to appoint a political figure with popular support to seek a solution (al-Arabiya, March 14). Turkey did not freeze Libyan assets or make any change in its diplomatic representation. Ankara has, however, indicated that it would respect any decisions regarding sanctions or military intervention that are passed by the UN Security Council. Libyan dissident Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, the deputy leader of the rebel National Libyan Council, has demanded that Turkey give the rebel group official recognition and direct support, but without success (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, March 12).

Ankara has repeatedly expressed concerns that foreign military intervention, particularly any involving the United States or former colonial powers, would run the immediate risk of delegitimizing not only the Libyan rebellion, but any further revolts against autocratic rule in the Arab world. Said Erdogan: “”We need to give the Libyan people permission to chart their own course” (Reuters, March 14). There is also uncertainty regarding what kind of administration or regime might follow the expulsion of Qaddafi, recognizing the possibility that a rebel victory might be exploited by other forces, including the radical Islamist movement.

Turkey has pointed out that NATO’s mandate does not cover events occurring in Libya. As Prime Minister Erdogan bluntly told a gathering in Hanover, Germany: “What has NATO got to do with Libya? NATO’s intervention in Libya is out of the question. We are against such a thing” (Today’s Zaman, March 6). Turkish President Abdullah Gul later questioned whether military intervention was even desired by the rebels, who used the slogan “Libyans can do it alone!” in the early phases of the rebellion: “A direct NATO intervention in Libya is out of the question… The people, government and opposition in Libya do not want a foreign force in the country” (AFP, March 14).

Turkey has also pointed out that there are alternative means of helping Libyans. According to the Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu: “We are not abandoning Libya. We are taking a temporary measure. We will take every step necessary in the humanitarian aid of the Libyan people” (Anatolia, March 12). Turkey joined with the United Arab Emirates to provide the first humanitarian aid shipment to Libya since the crisis began, sending a Turkish naval frigate to accompany two ships carrying 388 tons of food, 32 tons of medicine, water, portable shelters, mobile ovens and a Turkish Red Crescent team (Hurriyet, March 13; Gulf News, March 13). The Turkish foreign minister noted: “This humanitarian assistance is not aimed at a specific group or region, but at the entire Libyan nation. We aim, circumstances permitting, to have our assistance continue to flow into Libya and reach regions in need throughout the country” (Today’s Zaman, March 14).

The Turkish Prime Minister has been heavily criticized in parliament and the press for accepting the Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights in a ceremony last November (Hurriyet, February 21; AFP, November 26, 2010). Critics within Turkey have also complained the government’s response places Ankara too close to the Qaddafi regime, but there are signs that Turkey is ready to resume normal relations with Tripoli when the crisis ends. Turkish firm TAV Airports Holding has already announced it is preparing to return to Tripoli to resume work on the construction of two new terminal buildings at Tripoli Airport, part of Turkey’s substantial economic role in developing Libya (Hurriyet, March 17).

This article first appeared in the March 17, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

New Law Sets Notorious Turkish Hezbollah Members Free

Andrew McGregor

January 13, 2011

Turkish Hezbollah 1Turkish Hezbollah Military Leader Haci Inan (Haberler)

At least 25 suspected terrorists in a notorious mass torture-murder investigation have been released by a Turkish court under the new terms of article 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which forbids detention for more than ten years without the conclusion of a trial. The release of the suspects from Turkish Hezbollah has pitted politicians and judges in a dispute over responsibility while an outraged public questions the state’s dedication to eliminating terrorist groups in Turkey. The men are among as many as 1,000 suspected criminals expected to be released under the new law (NTV, January 5; Hurriyet, January 6; Today’s Zaman, January 5). Many more terrorist suspects, including the killer of journalist Hrant Dink, could be released within the coming year. Other beneficiaries of the changes include members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK) and various left-wing organizations. Some of the suspects did not reach the streets after their release from custody, however; having failed to complete mandatory military service, they were taken straight to military recruiting offices.

Turkish Hezbollah 2Edip Gumus

The freed members of the ethnic Kurdish and Sunni Hezbollah movement (no connection to Lebanon’s Shi’a Hezbollah) include military leader Haci Inan, Istanbul leader Ilyas Kutulman and assassin Edip Gumus, who is accused of killing 42 people. The suspects were arrested in a January 2000 investigation that resulted in the death of Hezbollah leader Huseyin Velioglu and the discovery of dozens of bodies (many showing signs of torture and restraint) beneath a number of Hezbollah safe-houses. Many of the dead showed signs of having been buried alive. Searches discovered hundreds of videotapes recording the torture and execution of Kurdish PKK members and rival Islamists, many of them moderates (see Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2008). Inan and Kutulman were charged with “attempting to overturn the constitutional order via force of arms,” based on Hezbollah’s avowed intention to replace the existing state with an Islamic government by force (Anatolia, January 4). The case is complicated by numerous allegations that Hezbollah operated as a covert arm of the state’s efforts to crush Kurdish separatism and Islamist challenges to the officially secular Turkish state (Hurriyet, January 7; BBC, January 23, 2000).

Many of the Hezbollah suspects were quickly given life sentences in local courts after their arrest, but once the cases arrived at the Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara they became bogged down in the sluggish and undermanned Turkish justice system (Hurriyet, January 7). Others received life sentences in December 2009.

Though the suspects are not allowed to travel and must report to police on a regular basis, there is no indication that the appeals court will arrive at a verdict any time soon. The ordinance has come under legal criticism in Turkey as still failing to meet EU standards as intended.

This article first appeared in the January 13, 2011 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

PKK Commander Suggests Kurdish Alignment with Israel against Turkey

Andrew McGregor

October 4, 2010

KarayilanMurat Karayilan

PKK Commander Murat Karayilan compared the situation of Turkey’s Kurds to the Jewish Holocaust in a public appeal to Israel to ally itself with the radical Kurdish nationalist movement against the Turkish state. The appeal was made in a recent interview with an Israeli journalist that was later broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 Television (Haaretz, September 22):

More than any other people in the world, I would have expected Israel to understand and identify with us. After all, you, who have experienced the Holocaust, massacres, expulsions and persecution, now see our people, the Kurdish people, experiencing that same fate. Everyone in this area – Syrians, Turks and Iranians – wants and is trying to destroy us, and you, of all people, are the ones providing them with the weapons to destroy us.

Karayilan was interviewed at a secret hideout in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, close to the border with Iran. With PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan confined to a Turkish prison, Karayilan has emerged as the effective leader of the Kurdish cross-border insurgency. Ocalan was seized in Nairobi in 1999, allegedly by a team of Israeli Mossad agents who turned the PKK leader over to Turkish security services (Daily Nation [Nairobi], February 27). Since then, however, there has been a general belief in Turkey that Israel has provided arms and training to PKK and Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq. An Israeli commando team involved in training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq was forced to withdraw in 2005 after their presence was made public, but recent reports indicate Israeli military trainers have returned to the region (Yedioth Ahronoth, December 1, 2005; Ynet, December 1, 2005; Arutz Sheva, February 5; Today’s Zaman, June 9).

Despite this belief, one of the PKK commander’s main concerns was the supply of Israeli-made Heron class unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the Turkish military. The UAVs have been highly effective in locating PKK positions in difficult terrain for targeting by Turkish forces (see Terrorism Focus Briefs, April 1, 2008). Karayilan remarked of the change in relations:

Once we were friends. In the 1960s and 1970s, Israel went out of its way to assist the Kurds. We admired you. But since the 1980s, from the moment you tightened your relationship, and your military cooperation, with Turkey, you have been considered here to be among those who systematically assist in our oppression and eradication… It is clear and natural to us that there should be relations between Israel and Turkey. Why not? But why should these relations come at our expense, at the expense of our lives? I wonder if Israelis are at all aware of the use that is made of the weapons and training they provide to Turkey.

Israel has not made an official statement on Karayilan’s interview, but an Israeli diplomat requesting anonymity told a Turkish daily, “The Israeli position is known and clear. We see the PKK as a terrorist organization and we support the Turkish fight against terror” (Today’s Zaman, September 22).

Despite what seemed to be a vicious public disagreement between Israel and Turkey following the May 31 Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship carrying aid to Gaza, diplomatic and military officials worked behind the scenes to ensure economic and military ties remained relatively undamaged by the feud (Hurriyet, September 22; see Terrorism Monitor Briefs,  June 12). Karayilan, however, attempted to exploit the rift:

More than any other Turkish head of state, this prime minister, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, openly shows how he is tightening relations with Hezbollah and Syria. He hugs [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and praises Hamas. Are you sure this is your friend?

An important ministerial summit between Turkey and Syria is scheduled for October 2-3, with terrorism expected to be one of the principal topics of discussion. Turkey is intent on improving economic relations with Syria and has already received Syrian support on the PKK issue (Hurriyet, September 28). However, the May 31 incident brought an abrupt end to Turkish efforts to mediate between Syria and Israel. Turkish interior minister Besir Atalay is also expected to meet soon with his counterparts in Syria and Iran to discuss the PKK threat.

Only a few days before Karayilan’s interview was broadcast, three PKK members were reported arrested in the port city of Jounieh by Lebanon’s Military Intelligence on charges of spying for Israel (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, September 23). Lebanon has arrested over 70 people on suspicion of spying for Israel since April 2009 (AFP, September 24).

This article first appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turkey Turns to Enhanced Intelligence and Professional Army to Fight Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

July 22, 2010

Rather than rotating short-enlistment conscript troops in and out of a completely unfamiliar battlefield, soldiers of a new Turkish paramilitary counter-terrorism force will live in the mountains of southeastern Turkey for the duration of their five-year enlistment. There, the soldiers will strike in accordance with real-time intelligence rather than man static positions in the government’s campaign against Kurdish militants of the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK – Kurdistan Workers Party).

 Turkish CTTurkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul

In a press interview, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul tried to describe the concept behind this new paramilitary:

Think of it as a long-service, salaried military service specializing in counter-terrorism. Right now the Gendarmes serve for four years. According to our ongoing studies, these personnel can also volunteer to do five years service and get a good salary. But when this period is up their ties with the state will end also. For example, they will not get a pension (Radikal [Istanbul], July 17).

While Gonul says it has not yet been decided whether to go with fresh recruits under 25 or to recruit older, more experienced men who have completed their military service, he made it quite clear that applicants should not expect a career in state service.

There has been some debate in the government as to whether the new force should come under the command of the police or the General Staff. Some reports suggest the Prime Minister favors a kind of joint command, such as that of the Gendarmerie, with some command functions under the General Staff and others under the newly created anti-terrorist Undersecretariat of Public Security (Today’s Zaman, July 17).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said efficiency will increase and losses will decrease by deploying a highly-trained force with knowledge of the local terrain and conditions: “Our aim is to designate only professional personnel at our borders” (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, July 16). Deputy Premier Cemil Cicek insisted the new force would not be “a separate army or be under the responsibility of a separate commander,” but suggested a professional formation specializing in counter-terrorism would be able to respond much more quickly to changes in terrorists’ methods, targets and rhetoric. Moreover, by spending the term of their enlistment on the border, they will be able to “differentiate between the terrorists and innocent people” (, July 17). Though the exact size of the force has yet to be determined, it is expected to consist of six brigades including six commando teams, a total of roughly 30,000 troops (Milliyet, July 15).

Turkish CT 2Turkish Special Forces in Training

By constantly rotating men out of the force after their enlistment term is up and returning them to the private sector, the government appears to be trying to avoid the establishment of unauthorized units like the Jandarma Istihbarat ve Terorle Mucadele (JITEM), which ran a vicious war of its own in southeastern Turkey within the official command of the Gendarmerie (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 28, 2009). This was one of the concerns expressed by Demokratik Sol Parti (DSP – Democratic Left Party) leader Masum Turker in a meeting with the Prime Minister (Today’s Zaman, July 16). The deputy chairman of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP – Republican People’s Party), Akif Hamzacebi, warned that the new unit could develop into a parallel institution within the existing military (Hurriyet, July 14). Mehmet Sandir, the Deputy Chairman of the right-wing Milliyetci Hareket Partisi (MHP – Nationalist Movement Party) – currently in the midst of a feud with the Prime Minister – described the new force as “a private army” and insisted that “Turkey’s efforts to build a professional army outside of the TSK and in line with EU demands are inappropriate, insincere and lacking seriousness” (Today’s Zaman, July 16). The pro-Kurdish Baris ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP – Peace and Democracy Party) warned that the new unit would only repeat the mistakes of special operations units in the southeastern provinces in the 1990s (Today’s Zaman, July 17).

The United States has indicated through its ambassador that it is ready to “review urgently any new requests from the Turkish military or government regarding the PKK” (AFP, June 21). The United States, which controls airspace over Iraq, has already given Turkey permission to fly its new Israeli-built Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over northern Iraq, providing the TSK with the type of real-time intelligence it complained it was not receiving on a steady basis from the United States (Today’s Zaman, July 15). Turkey, however, is not neglecting its own intelligence capabilities. It is currently reassessing its intelligence network in the border region, with an eye to a new emphasis on the collection of human intelligence by the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT – National Intelligence Organization). The agency reportedly intends to deploy 2,000 agents in the region, many of them recruited locally (Today’s Zaman, July 15).

Disappointed in the many delays involved in delivery of the Israeli Herons, Turkey has commissioned Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) to build its own medium-altitude long-endurance UAVs. The first TIHA (Turk İnsansız Hava Aracı – Turkish UAV) was completed on July 16 and delivery to the military will begin in 2011 (Hurriyet, July 15; Today’s Zaman, June 30). The ten meter long UAV has advanced surveillance equipment, a ceiling of 30,000 feet and can remain in the air for 24 hours ( There are also reports that Turkey is looking to purchase Predator and Reaper UAVs from the United States (Today’s Zaman, July 15).

The creation of the new counter-terrorist force may be seen as one phase in the TSK’s gradual transition into a leaner, more professional force from its existing Cold War model of an oversized conscript army.

This article first appeared in the July 22, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor