Calls for Resignation Follow General Basbug’s Public Discussion of Turkish Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Andrew McGregor

July 15, 2010

In a July 5 interview on Turkey’s Star TV, Chief of the Turkish General Staff Ilker Basbug made a number of controversial remarks regarding Turkey’s counter-terrorism strategy that have led to calls for his resignation, public criticism from the Turkish president and even a criminal complaint.

Basbug 1Chief of the Turkish General Staff Ilker Basbug

During the interview, General Basbug pointed out that the PKK has suffered enormous losses over the years from Turkish military counter-measures. Despite this, the movement still has about 4,000 active fighters. Basbug explains this by suggesting the PKK has benefitted from international political developments that have saved the movement each time it was on the verge of collapse. More important, however, is Turkey’s failure to properly assess the PKK’s resilience; “When incidents of terrorism subside or vanish in Turkey – we do not perceive this correctly. [We assume that] the terrorist organization is finished or that it has disbanded. In reality, the mountain cadres of the terrorist organization remained intact” (Anatolia, July 7; Milliyet, July 12).

The General outlined three essentials necessary for the continued operations of the PKK:

•    Human Resources – Recruits must be prevented from joining the terrorists, otherwise the constant attrition of PKK numbers will have little real effect.

•    Financial Resources – Basbug identified three main sources of PKK funding: the narcotics trade, human trafficking and extortion. All three sources are based on activities in Europe, leading Basbug to ask, “Is it not our right to ask these countries to take serious steps to control and to cut off the financing sources of the organization and to produce results?”

•    Safe Havens – The PKK continues to find secure spaces within Turkey as well as in neighboring countries like Iraq. Basbug complained that “powerful entities” in northern Iraq [i.e. the Kurdistan Regional Government] are not playing a part in eliminating the terrorists. He also pointed out that the PKK continues to receive logistical support in this region, making his boldest comments of the interview, “We are at a point where the time for talking is over. Turkey lost so many martyrs in the last two months. This causes heartaches to all of us. It is time – and getting late – for individuals, institutions, states, and entities in northern Iraq to fulfill the responsibilities incumbent upon them.”

Basbug also warned of deeper implications for international relations, even with its American NATO ally. He stated, “The PKK presence in northern Iraq may have a negative influence on Turkish-Iraqi relations in the coming period. To some extent, it may also have a negative effect on Turkish-US relations.” There is speculation within Turkey that the United States has cut back on its sharing of actionable intelligence with the Turkish military after Turkey voted against new sanctions on Iran in the UN Security Council. Allegedly, this has contributed to the success of several recent large-scale PKK attacks, but a spokesperson for the American embassy in Ankara denied any cutbacks in intelligence sharing (Hurriyet, June 20).

Also in the General’s sights were parliamentary deputies of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (Baris ve Demokrasi Partisi – BDP). According to Basbug, “They took an oath on the Constitution as deputies in Parliament, but then attended the funerals of terrorists… Either abandon your position as a deputy and go to the mountains [to join the PKK] or fulfill the responsibilities that stem from your oath in Parliament.”  BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas responded, “The Chief of General Staff is not in the position to give us orders. He committed a crime and should be deposed from office… Starting from now, Gen. Basbug is responsible for any possible undesirable incidents that may happen to BDP deputies” (Bianet, July 8; Today’s Zaman, July 7). One independent Turkish daily criticized the General’s remarks, saying, “While others are struggling to make the people come down from the mountains, the Chief of the General Staff takes efforts to direct the parliamentarians towards the mountains” (Taraf, July 8).

Basbug 2Gendarmerie Colonel Cemal Temizoz

Turkish jurists took offense at the General’s defense of Ergenekon suspects, including Gendarmerie Colonel Cemal Temizoz, who has been accused of leading a secret Gendarmerie formation in southeastern Turkey specializing in the torture and extrajudicial killing of Kurdish nationalists. According to Basbug, “Unjust accusations against officers, generals and non-commissioned officers disturbed me greatly. They are accused of membership in a terrorist organization. Colonel Temizoz is such an example” (Today’s Zaman, July 7). The remarks were interpreted as an attempt to put pressure on the judiciary in an ongoing investigation. Colonel Temizoz faces nine life sentences without the possibility of parole.  The Turkish Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi – IHD) said the General’s comments should be interpreted as support for crime and criminals. In cooperation with a number of lawyers from southeastern Anatolia, the IHD filed a criminal complaint accusing Basbug of spreading hatred (Today’s Zaman, July 11).

President Abdullah Gul joined in the condemnations of Basbug’s statements, particularly his decision to reveal details of Turkey’s counter-terrorism strategy previously discussed at classified meetings of the National Security Council (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu – MGK). Gul stated, “There is already an ongoing counterterrorism program. Talking about this does not bring any benefit” (Today’s Zaman, July 9).

General Basbug has also come under fire for publishing a speech on terrorism in the official Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) magazine Maarachot. The article underwent final editing after the IDF’s disastrous May 31 raid on a Turkish humanitarian aid ship in international waters that left nine Turks dead (Haaretz, July 5). Basbug is scheduled to complete his term as chief-of-staff on August 30.


This article first appeared in the July 16, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turks Suspect Israeli Role in PKK Attack on Naval Base at Iskenderun

Andrew McGregor

June 12, 2010

Hours before the deadly Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara and other ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, an assault on Turkey’s Iskenderun Naval Base left seven servicemen killed and six injured (Firat, May 31; Today’s Zaman, June 6). Though earlier reports indicated the attack was on the naval installation, Hatay Governor Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz said later that PKK members fired on a military vehicle carrying troops to sentry posts with RPG-7 grenade launchers and “long-range weapons” (, May 31). Iskenderun Naval Base is located in the Hatay province of southern Turkey on the northeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The base hosts the largest of Turkey’s three naval training centers. Iskenderun is well outside the usual range of PKK military attacks, though the group has carried out terrorist bombings throughout Turkey.

IskenderunThe deadly attack at Iskenderun came shortly after midnight, on the morning of May 31. A few hours later, Israeli commandos boarded six ships carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza in international waters, killing nine and injuring dozens more. All of the casualties were Turks, and the news of the event sparked large protests throughout the nation. Inevitably, news of the fatal attack on Iskenderun looked to many Turks like two sides of the same coin. The feeling was reflected at top levels across the political board; AKP Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik remarked, “We do not think that it is a coincidence that these two attacks took place at the same time” (Today’s Zaman, June 2). After expressing regret over the losses at Iskenderun, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu stated, “At a time when the Israeli army continues military operations, it is meaningful that such an incident took place in Turkey” (Today’s Zaman, June 2). Turkish intelligence agencies are reported to be investigating any links between the raid on the flotilla and the attack on the naval base (Today’s Zaman, June 6). Funerals of the dead servicemen across Turkey were attended by prominent government officials and large numbers of mourners carrying flags and shouting slogans (Hurriyet, June 1).

Turkey’s top military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 2 to discuss the two incidents. Following the meeting, Interior Minister Besir Atalay was cautious in his remarks, remarking, “I don’t want to say [these incidents] are related. Such investigations require close attention and we want to refrain from careless statements lacking tangibility… These subjects are delicate, especially when they have international dimensions” (Hurriyet, June 2; Today’s Zaman, June 3).

Many in Turkey’s government and military recall revelations of former Israeli commandos training Kurdish airport security and members of the Kurdish peshmerga militia prior to 2005, when political questions over their apparently illegal status in northern Iraq forced them to withdraw (Yedioth Ahronoth, December 1, 2005; Ynet, December 1, 2005). The men were employed by Kudo, a private security company run by Shlomi Michaels, a business associate of former Mossad chief and previous Kudo partner Danny Yatom. In recent months there have been reports that the Israeli military trainers have returned and resumed training of elite Kurdish military forces (Arutz Sheva, February 5; Today’s Zaman, June 9).

Sedat Laciner, head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization and a prominent commentator on Turkish security issues, noted that the Iskenderun attack was not typical of PKK operations. He suggested the PKK was acting as a “subcontractor” to Israel and was supported by ex-members of Mossad or the Israeli military. “It is normal that the PKK is trying to ally with Turkey’s enemies at this level… Israel also wants to show the ruling party of Turkey as something equal to Hamas. Israel wants to create such a bias in minds” (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, May 31). Other analysts pointed out that the apparent vulnerability of the Iskenderun region was of concern, given the concentration of new coal-fired and natural gas power plants in the area (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, June 5).

In Jerusalem, Mossad Chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset that Turkey was forming a new anti-Israel coalition with Syria and Iran as part of the AKP’s aim of restoring Turkish power in the Middle East. Dagan said President Erdogan has “a dream of returning Turkey’s dominance through going down the Islamic hall. He believes that through Hamas and Palestinians, additional doors will be opened for him in the Arab street” (Jerusalem Post, June 2).

Though the rhetoric on both sides is heated, there are signs that pragmatism will win the day. Turkey canceled three joint military exercises with Israel after the flotilla attack, but Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Turkey still expects delivery of four Israeli-made Heron unmanned aerial vehicles, part of a $190 million purchase of ten Heron UAVs. Other ongoing defense programs worth hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to continue (Hurriyet, June 3; World Tribune, June 2). Meanwhile, Turkish troops are reported to have taken losses in firefights with PKK fighters in southeastern Turkey’s Hakkari and Siirt provinces as the Kurdish rebel movement ends its ceasefire (Anatolia, June 1).


Turkey’s Gendarmerie: Reforming a Frontline Unit in the War on Terrorism

Andrew McGregor

November 25, 2008

Turkey’s paramilitary Gendarmerie, a frontline unit in the War on Terrorism, is about to undergo some of the greatest changes yet in its long history. The reforms call for a radical restructuring of the organization, designed to generate greater efficiency in counterterrorism efforts as well as assist Turkey in its efforts to join the European Union.

Jandarma 1The Gendarmerie (Jandarma Genel Komutanligi – JGK) was founded as part of the 1839 Ottoman Tanzimat reforms. In 1909 it was brought under control of the Ministry of War. The Gendarmes handled interior security during the First World War and played an important part in the War of Independence that followed the Ottoman collapse. Several reorganizations followed before the Gendarmerie became involved in the Cyprus conflict of 1974 ( When the struggle began against PKK militants, the Gendarmerie, as the security body responsible for the rural regions of southeast Turkey in which the PKK operated, was naturally involved. Currently, the Gendarmerie has responsibility for security in 92 % of Turkey’s area, containing over one-third of the nation’s population.

As a law enforcement agency, the Turkish Gendarmerie falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior, with responsibility for securing public order in areas outside municipal boundaries. The gendarmerie has special responsibilities in the areas of combating smuggling, border control, corrections, enforcing conscription and criminal investigations, as well as being available to perform duties to be determined by the General Staff. In wartime, however, the organization comes under the command of the Turkish General Staff and falls directly under the command of the military. This arrangement is supposed to make the Gendarmerie a more effective entity during times of crises. In practice, however, the Gendarmerie has little interaction with civilian agencies and tends to act as a department of the Turkish military even during times of peace. The reforms intend to eliminate this impractical two-headed command structure, bringing the paramilitary under complete civilian control.

The Gendarmerie is composed of six branches, operating in 13 regional commands spread over Turkey’s 81 provinces:

  • Gendarmerie Headquarters and subordinated units
  • Internal Security Forces Command (including Gendarmerie commando and aviation units)
  • Border Forces Command
  • Training Forces Command
  • Gendarmerie Schools Command
  • Logistics Command

The Gendarmerie is designed to be mobile and is well equipped with armored personnel carriers (APCs), helicopters, and light artillery. The APCs include old but upgraded East German BTR-60PBs, American-designed Cadillac-Gage vehicles, Turkish-built Otokar Akrep and Cobra models, and the Shorland S55, originally designed for service in Northern Ireland. A small force of helicopters includes Sikorsky S-70A28 and S-70A17 Blackhawks, Agusta-Bell AB205A1s, and Russian designed Mi-17 transports. During operations, gendarmerie forces may be transported by helicopter or call in air support from the Turkish Air Force when necessary. The Ozel Jandarma Komando Bolugu (OJKB) is the Gendarmerie’s highly-trained Special Forces unit. It specializes in counterterrorism operations (particularly those against the PKK) and public security activities. Most members of the Gendarmerie are conscript servicemen with only a short training period. NCO’s are selected from those soldiers with at least one year of military service. Officers are recruited while still cadets at the Military Academy and take additional gendarmerie training after finishing their infantry and commando training. They will usually stay with the Gendarmerie for the rest of their career. Gendarmes are typically posted away from their home regions to avoid conflicts of interest. Funerals of gendarmerie conscripts killed fighting the PKK are typically attended by thousands of angry mourners, but their slogans and invective remain directed towards the PKK rather than the government. For the government, this is a useful display of continued public support for a civil conflict that has survived a succession of governments and prevailing ideologies. Reforming the Gendarmerie

Based on decisions taken by the Higher Counterterrorism Board (Terorle Mücadele Yuksek Kurulu – TMYK) and the National Security Council (Milli Guvenlik Kurulu – MGK), the new Gendarmerie will focus on border security and the maintenance of order in rural areas. The force will lose its last areas of responsibility in towns and cities. The command structure will also be reformed, with civilians assuming most of the administrative positions. Both police and gendarmerie will be part of a new Domestic Security Under secretariat of the Interior Ministry (Hurriyet, October 23; Today’s Zaman, November 10). The Gendarmerie commander will no longer be listed among the top four generals of the Turkish armed forces (Turk Silahli Kuvvetleri – TSK) and will become subordinate to the Interior Minister, a reversal of the current protocol (Today’s Zaman, October 25).

While the TSK General Staff appears to have given its consent to the changes (or has at least decided not to oppose them publicly), there has been opposition from within the Gendarmerie command. A letter from General Mustafa Biyik, on behalf of the Gendarmerie command, demanded a reversal of the reforms, accusing the government of ignoring the wishes of the Gendarmerie general command and the organization’s 150 year legacy of service to the state (Taraf, October 26). The Gendarmerie is also proving reluctant to transfer command in urban jurisdictions to the national police.

In August, General Avni Atilla Isik, former staff commander of the Turkish Land Forces, became the new commander of the Gendarmerie. While General Isik has shifted to the Gendarmerie from the army, the new Gendarmerie Chief of Staff is Lieutenant General Mustafa Biyik, a career Gendarmerie officer, having joined the organization in 1975 ( Commanders are frequently drawn from the army, returning there after a period with the Gendarmerie.

Addressing a Controversial Legacy

For a force seeking to prove it has adopted European Union standards, the Turkish gendarmerie is facing an embarrassing assortment of court cases related to abuses of power. A court in Trabzon has ruled that the case of two Gendarmerie sergeants accused of having prior knowledge of the 2007 murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink can now go to trial. A gendarmerie Colonel is facing similar charges (Today’s Zaman, November 12). Former Gendarmerie commander Sener Eruygur is among those charged with participation in the Ergenekon plot (Yeni Safak, November 9; NTV November 11). Gendarmerie men are among those implicated in the beating death of a detained protestor last month (Anatolia, November 17; Hurriyet, November 17).

Jandarma 2A JITEM Gendarme

The most controversial branch of the Gendarmerie does not appear on the command chart. This is the Jandarma Istihbarat ve Terorle Mucadele (JITEM), the Gendarmerie’s intelligence and anti-terrorism department. Long-maintained official denials of JITEM’s existence are now collapsing in the courts, as ex-members of Turkey’s “deep state” security apparatus testify to their participation in covert and illegal activities over the last few decades as part of the ongoing “Ergenekon” investigation. Without any kind of civilian oversight, JITEM appears to have descended into violence and criminality, and are often only tenuously related to the security of the state. A recently-published book by a former JITEM officer, Abdulkadir Aygan, describes a force for which assassinations were normal business and even attacks on the state itself were considered permissible. [1]

As part of the Ergenekon investigation, retired general Veli Kucuk admitted to being the leader of JITEM after taking over from founder Arif Dogan in 1990 (Zaman, January 30). JITEM appears to have been composed largely of ex-PKK members and NCOs of the Gendarmerie, operating in small, largely autonomous cells specializing in false-flag operations. According to Aygan, torture was common and detainees were often killed.

A May 2008 study produced by Istanbul’s Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation addressed the problem of the lack of oversight of gendarmerie activities related to national security. According to author Ibrahim Cerrah, a professor at the Turkish Police Academy, institutional reforms are needed to raise the ethical standards of Turkey’s gendarmes and police, which have often resorted to extra-judicial means in countering threats to internal stability:

Legal and ethical violations by some security personnel may occur in the name of perceived higher ideals, such as the protection of the higher interests of the state and the nation, without consideration for any personal interest. However, it has been observed in the past that legal and ethical violations for short-term benefits can in the long run cause more harm than good to the principles defended and to the country… It is a fact that the problem of illegal and unethical acts committed by some security sector personnel is not sufficiently addressed. The most important reason for this is professional solidarity resulting from professional socialization… Members of the security profession are in a kind of unwritten agreement to protect each other and not to speak out against each other, outside of exceptional and compulsory situations. [2]

Independent inspection of the Gendarmerie as required by EU regulations has so far foundered because of the organization’s dual allegiance – its connection to the General Staff makes any outside inspection impossible without the approval or even participation of the General Staff itself (Turkish Daily News, May 14). The EU’s November progress report on Turkey stated; “no progress has been made on enhancing civilian control over the Gendarmerie’s law enforcement activities”. [3]

The JGK Commandos

Other reforms directed at Turkey’s commando forces will have an impact on the Gendarmerie, which maintains one brigade of commandos to the army’s five. The reforms are designed to professionalize the commandos, with only officers and volunteer NCOs of the rank of sergeant and above being allowed to join the force (Hurriyet, May 8). The move to professional troops will solve the problem of conscripts leaving the armed forces once their term of enlistment is up, giving the commandos the benefit of experience and continuity in their efforts. The new commandos will receive hazard pay for serving in southeast Turkey, the focus of fighting with the PKK.


Professionalization of the gendarmerie is being imposed by necessity. As law enforcement techniques become more sophisticated, a lack of education common to many conscripts is beginning to hamper operations, especially those done in conjunction with the generally better-educated police services. Changes in personnel recruitment are being matched by improvements in equipment, with ongoing modernization programs aimed at command and communications systems, weaponry, vehicles and other equipment. With unification under Interior Ministry command, the police and the gendarmerie are being encouraged to carry out greater intelligence cooperation, an ongoing problem in the Turkish security services.

An important indication of the Gendarmerie’s new field of responsibility may be found in Ankara’s recent approval of the construction of 118 new posts along the border with Iraq, along with the construction of roads linking the posts to urban centers and other necessary infrastructure (Today’s Zaman, November 14). The Gendarmerie is about to become a frontier force, with long postings in sparsely populated and largely inaccessible regions. In this sense, the Gendarmerie’s resistance to losing its last urban areas of responsibility is understandable. The important reforms to Turkey’s internal security structure may be seen as part of a general trend in Europe away from paramilitary Gendarmerie-type security services.


  1. See also Ferhat Unlu’s extensive interview with Abdulkadir Aygan, Sabah, August 25.
    2. Ibrahim Cerrah, Police Ethics and The Vocational Socialization of the Security Personnel in Turkey, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), Istanbul, May 2008, p.40.
    3. Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, November 5.


This article first appeared in the November 25, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Turkey Planning to Eliminate Kurdish PKK Insurgents in the Coming Year

Andrew McGregor

September 24, 2008

Turkey’s leading politicians and security officials gathered at the Prime Minister’s residence on September 11 to discuss approaches for Turkey’s ongoing struggle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK). Despite a long summer of small-scale attacks on Turkish security forces in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey and a series of deadly urban bombings carried out by the PKK or their allies, there is a belief at the highest levels of Turkey’s decision-makers that the PKK has been substantially weakened by military strikes against its infrastructure in northern Iraq and may be ready for a death blow to be delivered by Turkish forces in the coming year.

Basbug 3General Ilker Basbug

The meeting was chaired by Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan and was attended by new chief-of-staff of the Turkish Armed Forces (Turk Silahlı Kuvvetleri –TSK) General Ilker Basbug, Land Forces commander General Isik Kosaner, Gendarmerie commander General Atila Isik, National Police Chief Oguz Kagan Koksal, National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati – MIT) undersecretary Emre Taner, and the government’s most important cabinet ministers (Hurriyet, September 11; Today’s Zaman, September 12).

While the security summit discussed various military options, including further large-scale incursions across the border with Iraq to attack PKK bases there, participants also looked at various economic, social, and legal options to suppress militant separatist activity within Turkey’s Kurdish population.

Intelligence reports prepared for the meeting by the General Staff, the Gendarmerie Command, and the MIT interpreted the recent rash of urban bombings as a sign of the PKK’s diminished ability to mount more conventional guerrilla operations in southeastern Turkey. According to a statement released after the security summit, “the duration of this fight against the separatist terrorist organization [a government euphemism for the PKK], which is close to the breaking point, is growing shorter” (Today’s Zaman, September 13).

Statistics provided in documentation prepared for the meeting showed the intensification of Ankara’s war with the PKK. 87 Turkish soldiers were killed in combat with the PKK in 2006, 114 in 2007 and 178 in the first six months alone of 2008. These losses, however, are still far smaller than figures from the 1990s, as are the total number of armed encounters with PKK fighters. Turkish figures for PKK losses revealed 250 militants killed so far this year during cross-border operations into northern Iraq, with another 514 killed inside Turkey. An additional 222 PKK fighters either surrendered or were captured by Turkish security forces from January to August this year (Today’s Zaman, September 13; Turkish Daily News, September 17).

Regional development projects such as the $12 billion Southeastern Anatolia Project (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi – GAP) were an important part of the discussions as a means of addressing the chronic unemployment problem of southeastern Turkey, which helps feed a steady stream of recruits to the PKK bases. Covering nine provinces that currently see high levels of PKK activity, GAP is intended to raise living standards and resolve issues of economic disparity with the rest of Turkey. The construction of dams, irrigation schemes, new airports, power plants and other infrastructure is now underway in the much delayed project, first planned in the 1970s. Besides its regional goals, the massive development scheme is also expected to aid Turkey’s integration into the European Union (

PKK MilitantsPKK Militants in Diyarbakir

Efforts are currently underway to identify places where PKK militants might prepare winter shelters as bases for terrorist attacks inside Turkey’s urban areas. Only two days after the summit, the TSK General Staff declared the provinces of Sirnak, Siirt, Batman, Van and Hakkari to be Temporary Security Zones for the next three months. The designation gives Turkish security forces extraordinary powers to prevent the establishment of PKK bases and supply routes through the mountainous and often lightly populated regions of the five provinces.

When Turkey’s parliament resumes sessions on October 1, the government is expected to ask for approval for a one-year extension to the current mandate allowing cross-border strikes into northern Iraq, which expires on October 17. With the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) controlling 341 of the assembly’s 550 seats, the resolution is expected to pass easily. The AKP is reported to be disappointed in the failure of Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq to take action against PKK personnel in the area. Turkey’s opposition Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP) has suggested it will vote in favor of the motion but accuses the AKP of being ineffective in dealing with PKK terrorism due to its desire to win ethnic Kurdish support away from the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi – DTP) in upcoming regional elections (Hurriyet, September 12; NTV, September 16).

The improved regime of intelligence cooperation with the United States will continue to play a major role in Turkey’s offensive against the PKK. On the same day as the summit in Ankara, the U.S. State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism, Dell Dailey, declared Turkey and the United States “have intelligence sharing comparable to no other cooperation among other world states” (Hurriyet, September 11). Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Turkey only days after the security summit for talks with President Abdullah Gul and General Basbug. Admiral Mullen pledged continued U.S. backing for Turkish operations, noting: “The operations that the U.S. supported were very effective last year” (Today’s Zaman, September 16).

In the days prior to the security summit in Ankara, General Basbug made a visit to Diyarbakir, the chief city in the ethnic Kurdish southeast. Surprisingly, his focus was on the economic rather than security aspects of the campaign to end separatist violence in the region. In a meeting with the region’s major employers and NGOs, Basbug solicited ideas for offering young people in the area alternatives to militancy while stating that he would be keeping a close eye on the progress of the GAP initiative (, September 5; Vatan, September 13). The General stressed the need for vocational education for young men in the region as well as greater educational opportunities for women and children. Displaying a personal touch previously unknown in the usually reserved General Staff, Basbug then made a visit to the nearby city of Van, where he crossed security barriers to meet and converse with local people who had come out for the occasion. Widely cheered for the unexpected gesture, the General commented afterward, “This is the first time that I’ve witnessed our citizens’ respect and love for our armed forces at this level. These are decent citizens. That’s it. I will not forget this experience for the rest of my life” (Today’s Zaman, September 6).

Several days after the security summit, General Basbug held a “communication meeting” with the editors and Ankara correspondents of a number of Turkish newspapers, though the representatives of several other newspapers were pointedly excluded. Indicating what seemed to be a new willingness on the part of the General Staff to open a media front in the war against the PKK, Basbug promised weekly press briefings and round-the-clock access to a TSK spokesman. The new chief-of-staff expressed his desire that the TSK should not be dragged into political debates, an apparent shift from the General Staff’s previous willingness to insert itself into all manner of internal political matters. Basbug also warned against the publication of secret military documents, after several notable instances of such documents appearing in the pages of pro-government newspapers. Efforts to persuade senior military staff to leak information would no longer be tolerated (Turkish Daily News, September 17). On the PKK front, General Basbug suggested that the organization was unable to draw more recruits today than it did in 1990, but the PKK was now drawing heavily on Syria, Iran and European countries for new ethnic-Kurdish recruits. According to Basbug, one-third of the PKK is now Syrian in origin (, September 16; Turkish Daily News, September 17).

In the meantime the TSK continues to harass the PKK’s own cross-border operations. Officials of Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party announced on September 14 that Turkish artillery had shelled fourteen border villages in northern Iraq the same day (PUKmedia, September 14). General Basbug warned a week earlier that the Turkish military was ready to launch strikes in any kind of weather after the success of last February’s cross-border winter operations; “The message has been taken from Operation Gunes” (Today’s Zaman, September 6). General Basbug also made it clear the TSK will not allow this perceived opportunity to eliminate the PKK to slip away through a narrow focus on military options: “The PKK is heading towards a breaking point. What is important is how we will make use of it…. The organization has been in this situation before, but we made mistakes” (AFP, September 17).

This article first appeared in the October 1, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

PKK’s Cemil Bayik Evaluates State of the Kurdish Insurgency

Andrew McGregor

August 12, 2008

Cemil Bayik, a leading member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK), gave a lengthy interview to a Kurdish news agency on the current state of the PKK’s insurgency against the Turkish government (Firat News Agency, July 29, 30; Yeni Ozgur Politika [Neu-Isenburg], August 5).

Cemil BayikCemil Bayik

Together with alleged rival Murat Karayilan and military commander Fehman Hussein (a.k.a. Bahoz Erdal), Bayik is one of the PKK’s core leaders in the absence of the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan. Under increasing pressure from the Turkish military in northern Iraq, Bayik was reported to have escaped across the border to Iran in May, where his small group was attacked by Iranian troops (Today’s Zaman, May 22; see also Terrorism Focus, May 20). Bayik’s military skills and leadership were criticized by Abdullah Ocalan during his 1999 trial, with Ocalan suggesting Bayik preferred to remain behind the frontlines. Little has been heard from Bayik since his flight to Iran, though it appears he may have now returned to northern Iraq.

Bayik points to the “toughened” policies of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) towards the Kurdish people as proof the AKP is using the conflict to ingratiate itself with a civilian and military bureaucracy that was seeking to shut down the AKP. The PKK leader alleges a decision to pursue a military solution was made at a private meeting in June between General Ilker Basbug (who takes over as Chief of Staff this month) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Sabah, June 25). Nevertheless, “The PKK is powerful enough to dictate a solution to the Kurdish problem. A democratic solution could be possible if people and guerillas put up effective resistance.”

Regarding Ankara’s relations with Washington, Bayik charges Turkey with committing itself to U.S. policies in the region to earn American support against the PKK. The Turkish state “will resort to every possible method to create a dispute between us and the United States and political parties in Southern Kurdistan [northern Iraq] because experience it gained in the past decade showed it that it could not defeat Kurdish guerillas without external support.” Bayik seems to have regarded the United States as a potential ally in the past, alleging that U.S. authorities were in contact with the Iranian Kurdish wing of the PKK, the Party for Freedom in Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which shares bases, equipment, and infrastructure with the PKK in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq (AFP, November 23, 2006). Reports of American weapons being delivered to PJAK camps in the Qandil Mountains threatened to sever U.S.-Turkish relations last year before a new pact was worked out on intelligence sharing and other co-operation against the PKK.

Bayik denies U.S. and EU charges that the PKK finances itself through drug trafficking in Europe, suggesting that it is the Turkish state that uses profits from the drug trade to finance its battle against the PKK. The U.S. turns a blind eye to this in order to increase its popularity in Turkey and use Ankara to further its regional policy (see Terrorism Monitor, June 12). Bayik also comments on Turkey’s “deep-state” Ergenekon conspiracy, suggesting that the arrests of retired generals and other suspects was only part of an attempt by the AKP to garner U.S. and EU approval.

The improving relations between Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq are obviously worrisome for the PKK, whose bases are located in northern Iraq. Bayik cautions rather than condemns KRG leaders for recent remarks indicating an absence of support for the PKK’s struggle: “We cannot say that our relations with powers in South Kurdistan are not satisfactory… We are going through a period when more positive developments than negative ones could be witnessed from the standpoint of Kurdish people…We can say that the powers in South Kurdistan encourage Turkey by making wrongheaded statements.”


This article first appeared in the August 12, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Arming for Asymmetric Warfare: Turkey’s Arms Industry in the 21st Century

Andrew McGregor

Jamestown Foundation, June 2008


The Turkish Armed Forces (Turk Silahli Kuvvetleri – TSK) consists of an army, navy and air force of considerable size and power. The Turkish Coast Guard and the paramilitary Gendarmerie (Jandarma – responsible for security in rural areas) both come under the command of the Ministry of the Interior but work closely with the TSK. In wartime both organizations would come under the command of the Ministry of Defense.

Turkey - AW 1Turkish Special Forces in Northern Iraq (Hurriyet)

Under General Yasar Buyukanit (who took command of the armed forces as Chief of Staff in August, 2006), the Turkish General Staff (TGS) has intensified its program of military reforms while undertaking the largest military operations in over a decade.

In August 2008, General Buyukanit will be succeeded as Chief of the TGS by General Ilker Basbug, the current commander of Turkey’s Land Forces Command. Basbug is on record as stating that the main purpose of the TSK and the state is the struggle against counter-revolutionary forces opposed to secular Kemalism (Yeni Safak, April 10, 2008).

The governing Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – AKP) has gradually asserted greater civilian control of the military procurement process since 2002 as well as having undertaken steps to reduce the influence of the TSK General Staff in domestic politics in order to meet European Union standards on civil-military relations.

Though changes are underway, Turkey still maintains a vast conscript army of over one million men, the second largest in NATO and the largest in Europe. Despite having a much smaller economic base than many of its NATO partners, the large size of the Turkish military establishment has always found assured funding through the immense political presence the TSK wields in Turkish life. The military views itself as the guardian of the secular Kemalist republic and has repeatedly shown its willingness to intervene in Turkey’s politics as part of that role. At the moment, the TSK finds itself in the unusual position of fighting a cross-border counter-insurgency with the support of an Islamist government it has substantial differences with regarding the direction of the Turkish state. Despite critical words that were often harsh at times, the current leadership of the Turkish General Staff (TGS) has backed off in several recent confrontations with the government over issues that once would have seen TSK tanks rolling towards Ankara’s parliament building (these issues include the appointment of Islamist Abdullah Gul as the nation’s president and the volatile “head-scarf” debate). General Buyukanit expressed the concerns of the TGS when he recently warned of “reactionary circles” that were determined to pursue anti-secular activities in Turkey through various foundations and associations (Anatolia, April 4, 2008).  Despite political support from the ruling Justice and Development Party for military reforms, the AKP’s plan to increase social spending throughout the country may initiate a rare debate on the future of Turkish military spending.

Turkey’s substantial defense industry consists of over 200 firms (many wholly or partly owned by the state) with an annual turnover of between $3 and $4 billion (Anatolia, February 26, 2008). There are over 1,000 Turkish sub-contractors with the number growing every day due to intensive state efforts to involve small and medium sized enterprises in the industry. Over 50,000 people are employed by the defense industry. Despite efforts to build a domestic arms-industry, Turkey remains the world’s fourth-largest importer of arms but the world’s 28th largest arms exporter. Turkey is aggressively seeking to increase its market share, expecting to increase its annual exports to $1.5 billion in the next three years (Anatolia, February 26, 2008). Turkey is also seeking to increase its share of domestically produced military equipment from the current 25% to 50% and its share of NATO projects from 4% to 20% by 2011 (Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 9, 2007; TDN, February 26, 2008). According to the chief of Turkey’s national military procurement agency, Turkey’s annual defense spending is 11.3 billion per year, ranking it fifth in Europe and twentieth in the world (Today’s Zaman, April 15, 2008).

Turkey’s Geo-Political Situation

Turkey is located at the strategic crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. As such, it shares borders with no less than eight countries; Bulgaria, Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Far larger than its land borders are Turkey’s 8,300 km of coastline along the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas.

Despite being NATO allies, Turkey and Greece retain long-embedded suspicions of each other’s motives and intentions, fuelled by unresolved disputes over the status of Cyprus and smaller territories in the Aegean Sea. An example of these tensions can be found in a press article by Ali Kulebi of Ankara’s National Security Strategies Research Center; “It is absolutely clear that if Greece believes that it has reached our military power one day, it would certainly attack Turkey without any question” (Turkish Daily News, December 3, 2007). General Buyukanit paid a visit to Greece in 2006 at the invitation of Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Admiral Panagiotis Chinofitis, during which a number of initiatives were launched to increase greater cooperation between the two NATO allies (Turkish General Staff Press Release BA 29/06). The current Greek Chief of Staff, General Dimitrios Graspas, met with General Buyukanit in Ankara in late May of this year to discuss confidence building measures (Hurriyet, May 29;, May 26).

The increasing threat posed by the development of ballistic missile programs in neighboring countries (particularly that of Iran) has compelled Turkey to respond to this growing threat by the development of its own missile program. Turkey has also entered into talks with Iran over greater military cooperation, particularly against Kurdish rebels based in northeastern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains. The Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkere Kurdistan – PKK) has gradually become almost inseparable from the Iranian Kurdish Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane – PJAK), which carries out attacks on Iran from its bases on the Iraqi side of the border.

Turkey’s participation in international arms markets has frequently been hampered by issues such as human rights concerns over Turkey’s methods in combating PKK terrorists and even the lingering debate over the so-called “Armenian genocide” allegedly carried out by Ottoman forces during the First World War.  Despite clear expressions of Turkish displeasure, the debate has been most strongly pursued in the legislatures of Turkey’s NATO partners in Western Europe and North America. Israel has also become involved of late and the whole issue has become a contributing factor in the selection of bids for arms sales or military-industrial partnerships with Turkey.

Military Challenges

Turkey has taken enormous strides in developing its military capabilities, currently fielding the second-largest military in NATO and the second most technologically advanced military in the Middle East. While Turkey is certainly prepared for conventional warfare, the question is whether the TSK’s size and structure prepare it to address the new threats posed by asymmetrical warfare.

Today Turkey is on the path of developing a smaller, more professional military force in much the same way its European and North American allies have already done. The usefulness of massive conscript armies is rapidly fading as new military technologies require highly-trained professionals to operate them. The cost of maintaining such a personnel-heavy military establishment is rapidly becoming prohibitive and the changing nature of security threats, from nation-states to small non-state forces such as guerrilla groups or terrorist cells, also requires greater specialization with a new emphasis on intelligence work. The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus recently noted that sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment had become the key to battlefield success (Army Times, April 14, 2008). Where Ottoman armies in the field were once notorious for ignoring the most basic concepts of reconnaissance or intelligence collection (to their continual expense on campaign), today’s TSK is eager to embrace and integrate the most modern methods of intelligence collection in their strategic and tactical planning. General Buyukanit has stated that future military operations will be based on information management, requiring a core of highly trained and educated professionals; “The essential point will be to know everything about the adversaries, to minimize the information they have and to use their information to our advantage” (Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 4, 2006).

In modern asymmetric warfare, conventional militaries have to cope with scattered opponents fighting from multiple locations. A variety of unconventional methods, including terrorism, are typically used by the weaker party to undermine militaries based on the conventional 20th century model. Every means will be sought and used to exploit vulnerable points in the state with political significance and utility guiding the means and timing of strikes against the state or its security apparatus. Asymmetric threats may also be coupled with more conventional threats. To deal with these wide-ranging security challenges General Buyukanit has sought to create a professional force, “capable of performing conventional and asymmetric combat; a more modern TSK that can assume assignments given by the constitution and the laws with a smaller number of troops” (Anatolia, April 4, 2008). Continued rivalry in Turkey between the Interior Ministry and the TSK over responsibility for “homeland security” is a major stumbling block to developing strategies for meeting asymmetric challenges (Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 9, 2007).

The TGS has expanded the range of threats it must now guard against to include terrorism, sabotage, the deployment of weapons of massed destruction (WMDs) and organized crime (Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 4, 2006; May 9, 2007). New arms and other equipment will be needed to meet these challenges; in an October 2006 article, General Buyukanit provided a specific list of the TSK’s needs as it moves towards modernization:

  • Tactical wheeled armored vehicles;
  • Procurement of tanks as interim requirements;
  • Attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopters;
  • Utility helicopters;
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles;
  • Multiple launch rocket systems;
  • 155 mm self-propelled and towed howitzers;
  • Fire support automation;
  • Air-defense early warning and control systems;
  • Low- or medium-altitude air-defense systems, tactical area communications;
  • A tactical command and control system; and
  • A logistics management system. (Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 4, 2006).

Turkey has also assumed responsibilities in UN and NATO peacekeeping missions and counter-terrorism efforts. In October 2006, Turkey contributed 1,000 troops to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), including military engineering and naval units. Today it maintains 752 troops in Kosovo Force (KFOR) and 750 troops in the Afghanistan International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), where Turkey’s refusal to commit these troops to combat theaters has caused a diplomatic rift with Washington.

Conventional Warfare, Traditional Allies

Turkey became a member of NATO on February 18, 1952, at which time it initiated a program to modernize its armed forces to better integrate with its new NATO allies. This process was aided by NATO assistance and military credits. During the PKK insurgency of the 1990s, several European states tried to apply restrictions to the use of weapons and military equipment purchased by Turkey.

Despite occasional impatience with its allies’ views on Turkish history and Turkey’s methods of dealing with its security concerns, there is every sign that Turkey has no intention of changing its approach to defensive alliances. According to General Buyukanit; “Victory in battles of today and the next 15-20 years’ time will not belong to a single force alone. Instead, we have seen in recent regional crises and the Gulf Wars that one country’s armed forces is not sufficient to resolve these conflicts. Therefore, we will continue to participate in operations with the forces established within the scope of both NATO and UN” (Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 4, 2006).

Still awaiting approval for membership in the European Union, Turkey’s defense establishment has run into problems with changes in the European Union’s defensive alignment that have been interpreted as being exclusionary with regards to Turkey. In an early April interview with an organ of the Turkish defense establishment, General Buyukanit described Turkey’s dissatisfaction with being excluded from full participation in the decision-making process of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), the basis for a European Union defense alliance that has grown out of the earlier Western European Union (WEU); “Since the transfer of most of the WEU’s powers to the EU, some full members of the WEU have lost almost all of their rights… Turkey makes a substantial contribution to the EU’s efforts for European security, but it also supports the primacy of NATO in this respect. The inseparability of security obliges non-EU countries to be active in ESDP. No discrimination should be allowed” (Savunma ve Havacilik, April 2008; EDM, April 7, 2008).


Asymmetric Warfare and the PKK

Lieutenant General Servet Yoruk, commander of the TSK’s Special Forces, recently spoke on the development of asymmetric threats following the end of the Cold War. Defining asymmetric threats as “a means which is used by the weak to confront the strong or between even powers to defeat one another basing their actions on difference and superiority,” the General suggested that such threats are “mostly created by ethnic unrest, gaps between living conditions of different countries, undemocratic regimes, [the] spread of weapons of mass destruction, illegal immigration and other results of globalization.” The Special Forces have important tasks in reconnaissance, target identification and direct action to destroy terrorists and their infrastructure (Defence News, March 31, 2008).

Turkish raids on northern Iraq in February and March of 2008 demonstrated an ability to mount highly-integrated aerial attacks with helicopter-borne assault teams. With the availability of real-time intelligence from U.S. surveillance sources (and to a lesser degree, Israeli-built drones), Turkish planners have also demonstrated an ability to quickly interpret and exploit such information in deadly strikes on PKK targets.

The TGS has been gradually moving away from identifying military force as the sole solution to terrorist threats; according to General Buyukanit, “terrorism has economic, social and political dimensions as well as its security dimension. Terrorism can only be eliminated with a fight comprising all those dimensions” (Anatolia, April 4, 2008).

The Internal Terrorist Threat

In Turkey the threat of terrorism comes from a variety of players; the domestic right and left wing, ethnic-nationalist groups, and both domestic and foreign-based religious extremists. Terrorism occurs in both rural and urban areas and strikes both civilian and military targets. Militant groups active within Turkey include the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), al-Qaeda, the Turkish Hizbullah, and the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front (IBDA-C). Meeting this security challenge has required the efforts of the military, the gendarmerie, various intelligence groups and Turkish police across the country.

A homeland security plan intended to coordinate Turkey’s defense industries and security structures under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior in cooperation with the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries was developed in 2001 but never implemented due to inter-organizational rivalries (Today’s Zaman, March 25, 2008).

Military Reforms

The “Kuvvet 2014” (Force 2014) reform program calls for a 20% to 30% reduction in the size of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLFC). According to General Buyukanit; “The main purpose of the TLFC in the future will be to reach a force structure that will enable us to respond to conventional and asymmetrical risks and threats; to conduct operations day and night in any environment and situation; to take decisions more swiftly than any adversaries; and to have available weapons with longer ranges than those of our adversary” (Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 9, 2007).

Buyukanit has described the Turkish Land Force of the future: “Force-2014 aims for a TLF that is smaller; trained for each mission; capable of fighting in high and low intensity conflicts; rapidly deployable, sustainable and survivable; and capable of conducting joint and combined operations. The force will possess adequate firepower; sufficient air-defense systems; and effective command and control systems” (Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 4, 2006; Savunma ve Havacilik Dergisi, August 2006).  The new TLF will be based on rapid-reaction forces with local and strong, centrally located strategic reserves (Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 4, 2006).

Important changes have already been made to the way Turkey tackles PKK insurgents on the ground. The detachments of roughly 15 conscripts led by an NCO that once were the mainstay of the Turkish war against the PKK are being phased out, replaced by all-volunteer units of highly-trained Special Forces personnel. In June 2007, Land Forces Commander General Ilker Basbug announced a plan calling for the creation of six Special Forces brigades composed entirely of professional soldiers of the rank of sergeant and above (Today’s Zaman, June 28, 2007; October 22, 2007). These reformed commando brigades are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2009. The move to a professional counter-terrorist force is expected to increase operational efficiency while tempering public anger over the losses of poorly-trained conscripts to ambush or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).


The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (Savunma Sanayii Mustesarligi – SSM)

The Ministry of National Defense Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (Savunma Sanayii Mustesarligi – SSM), Turkey’s military procurement agency, is designed to coordinate the activities of Turkish defense industries with Turkish military requirements, as well as encourage the development of new enterprises and technology. Through the SSM the state is also able to facilitate the work of the defense industries through seeking foreign capital investments and the development of a modern, integrated defense industry infrastructure. The SSM defines its mission as the “modernization of the Turkish Armed Forces and the improvement of the defense industry.” The goals of the SSM include the development of technological expertise, the creation of an export infrastructure and the strengthening of side sectors or related industries. The SSM also oversees the issuance of contracts for arms/equipment purchases from foreign suppliers. Murad Bayar was a consensus choice between the AKP and the TGS to head SSM in 2004.

The SSM was established in 1985 under the Defense Industry Law and exists as a legal entity in its own right with its own extra-budgetary resources. Its main purpose is to facilitate the modernization and expansion of the Turkish defense industry and implement the decisions of the Defense Industry Executive Committee (Savunma Sanayii Icra Komitesi –SSIK), the main decision-making group, consisting of the chief of the SSSM, the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff. As an arm of the government, the SSM has a hand in creating favorable resolutions to trade issues and the provision of necessary financial and economic support to the defense industry. The SSM has its own source of capital independent of national defense budget appropriations, with direct access to a percentage of taxes levied on fuel, income, corporate, tobacco and alcohol. These funds are handled by a division of the SSM, the Defense Industry Support Fund.

The SSM is currently working within the outlines of a five-year (2007-2011) strategic plan. The plan calls for the SSM “to conduct supply activities effectively in accordance with the expectations of the users, to improve international cooperation in the field of defense industry and to establish an effective institutionalized structure to realize [the] abovementioned activities…” (Murad Bayar in Defence Turkey Magazine 2(10), 2008).

Most deals negotiated with foreign partners by the SSM usually call for some reciprocal purchase of goods from Turkey, either part of the defense production the partner is engaged in (offsets), or some other type of Turkish-produced goods.

Turkish Armed Forces Foundation (Turk Silahli Kuvvetlerini Guclendirme Vafki – TSKGV)

A military-run charitable trust with financing outside the national budget, the TSKGV is a major economic force in the development of the Turkish arms industry. The foundation is obligated to spend 80% of its annual gross income – of this 65% goes towards TSK projects and the remaining 35% towards defense industry investments. The foundation typically purchases defense systems required by the TSK from Turkish manufacturers.

According to the TSKGV’s general manager, retired Lt. General Engin Alan; “The foundation’s direct contribution to the defense industry is carried out by establishing new companies, being a partner of the present companies, increasing its shares in companies and participating in raising its companies’ capital. The funding required for these activities is met through 35% of the foundation’s income allocated for the defense industry” ( The TSKGV is also responsible for hosting international defense industry fairs.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Road Not Taken

There is no evidence that Turkey is pursuing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, though the PKK has alleged that the TSK used chemical weapons against its fighters and Kurdish peasants  in 1988 and again in 2006 (Human Rights Watch: Iraqi Kurdistan – The Destruction of Koreme During the Anfal Campaign, 1992; Firat News Agency, February 26, 2006; February 28, 2006). Turkey’s position on WMD is given on the website of the Turkish General Staff; “Turkey does not possess WMD and does not intend to have them in the future. Turkey adheres to all major international treaties, arrangements and regimes regarding non-proliferation of those weapons and their delivery means, and actively participates and supports all efforts pertaining to non-proliferation in the NATO” (

Concerns have been raised in some quarters that Turkey’s pursuit of nuclear power may create favorable conditions for the construction of nuclear weapons, but Turkey’s nuclear projects are under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); for the moment the only nuclear devices in Turkey are in the hands of the U.S. Air Force at Incirlik Air Base. Turkey supports Iran’s efforts to build civilian-use nuclear power plants, but opposes attempts by Iran or any other Middle Eastern nation to introduce new nuclear weapons into the region. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has stated Turkey’s opposition to U.S. diplomatic efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic; “Simply isolating Iran in our view caused Iran to be more united, to weaken the hands of the reformists… Also [it led to an] Iran which had more and more influence in the region” (Today’s Zaman, April 4, 2008).

The Road to Self-Sufficiency

The biggest challenge to building a functioning domestic arms industry was Turkey’s small technological base. For a time this hampered Turkey’s international competitiveness. To deal with this problem, the TSK has defined 11 “Technology Activity Fields” and 109 “Technology Areas” in which to focus development according to immediate and long-term requirements (Turkish Daily News, December 3, 2007). Competitiveness remains a major problem in the Turkish arms industry, with the TSK frequently finding it cheaper to buy foreign products than rely on domestic development (EDM, December 6, 2007).

International cooperation on arms projects is seen as a means of closing the technology gap; “The technological level of the defense industry and international cooperation opportunities feed each other and have a triggering relationship. As its technological infrastructure improves, our industry strengthens its position as a suitable candidate for new partnerships, and as it attends to new international projects, it gets opportunity to improve its capabilities” (Murad Bayar; Defence Turkey Magazine 2(10), 2008). Turkey also pursues an aggressive policy on offset sales designed to promote exports and self-sufficiency as well as reduce the national balance of payments (Today’s Zaman, May 21, 2007).


  • Aselsan Inc.

Aselsan is the largest defense company in Turkey, specializing in military electronics and communications systems.  The state-owned manufacturer produces many systems under U.S. license, including battlefield communications equipment as well as components for several other major Turkish defense projects. It has become a major exporter of military equipment.

Aselsan was founded by the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation in 1975 to produce military radios and electronics for the TSK. Today it consists of three divisions; the Guidance and Electro-Optics Division, the Communications Division and the Microwave and System Technologies Division.

Among Aselsan’s many products is the Turkish produced Aselsan Pedestal Mounted Air Defense System (PMADS), a self-propelled surface-to-air missile system that comes in two mobile land versions, ATILGAN and ZIPKIN (Jane’s Land-Based Air Defense, March 26, 2008), as well as a naval version, BORA The systems carry four to eight Stinger missiles. Aselsan’s frequency-hopping/software-based radios have been sold to Egypt and Pakistan. Among its most important projects is its work as a subcontractor with the Israel UAV Partnership (IUP) and Elbit Systems in the development of Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (Defense Industry Daily, September 13, 2005).

Aselsan is currently working on a major surveillance and detection system to defend the Turkish Aksaz and Foca naval bases with Kongsberg of Norway as a subcontractor.

  • Havelsan AS

Owned by the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, this software manufacturer achieved Turkey’s first high-tech export in 2006 by selling CN-235 flight simulators to South Korea. Havelsan is also involved in naval technology projects, such as the National Ship Project (MILGEM) and the GENESIS project (Gemi ENtegrE Savab Ydare Sistemi), designed to upgrade the combat management systems of the Turkish Navy. GENESIS involves a high degree of automation in the combat management systems and will also reduce reaction time for missile defense systems.

Havelsan aims to become one of Europe’s leading IT companies through the indigenous development of software-intensive defense systems, using regional and global partnerships to boost its international competitiveness (Havelsan GM Faruk Yarman; Defence Turkey Magazine 2(10), 2008). One of Havelsan’s biggest projects has been the manufacture and export of CN-235 flight simulators to South Korea.

Havelsan is deeply involved in improving Turkey’s electronic surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities. To this end Havelsan plays a large role in the Early Warning and Command Control System Project (Peace Eagle), and acts as a subcontractor to France’s Thales Airborne Systems in the Maritime Patrol Aircraft project (MELTEM), which involves a significant degree of technology transfer. MELTEM involves the installation of Thales’ Airborne Maritime Situation Control System (AMASCOS) into modified CN-235 aircraft belonging to the Turkish Navy and Coast Guard (Thales Press Release, September 12, 2002). Another major project is the Airforce Information System, an integrated battle management system. Havelsan is a sub-contractor to Lockheed-Martin on the Joint Strike Fighter project (see below). Various administrative software programs are also produced by Havelsan for use by the TSK and the national government.

  • Makina ve Kimya Endüstrisi Kurumu (MKEK)

State-owned MKEK (Machine and Chemical Industries Corporation) was founded in 1950 as the successor company to the General Directorate of Military Factories, established with the end of the War of Liberation in 1923.  MKEK is Turkey’s largest arms manufacturer and is owned by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. It operates a dozen factories in Turkey (Ankara, Cankiri and Kirikkale), with a limited amount of mostly dual-use civilian production. Its main products are small arms (particularly G-3 rifles and MG-3 machine guns), machine guns, antiaircraft weapons, multiple launch rocket systems, antitank weapons grenades and ammunition (  Over 80% of Turkey’s small arms and ammunition needs are met by MKEK. The G-3 A3 and G-3 A4 rifles are variations of the standard NATO 7.62mm rifle made under license (as are most MKEK products). Another notable product is the HK-33 (Heckler and Koch) 5.56mm assault rifle.

Turkey’s replacement for the G3 will be the Mehmetcik I assault rifle (similar in design to the HK-416 according to some observers). The rifle will be made in Turkey without having to pay license fees; production of the G3 will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of Turkey’s efforts to become a major player in the international arms markets.

MKEK has been directed by SSM to begin producing 40 mm grenade launchers from its plant in Cankiri. According to the Turkish press, “Plans have been made to use the automatic grenade launchers in the struggle against terror” (Hurriyet, April 14).

  • Otokar A.S.

Otokar is a sub-division of privately-owned Koc Holding, Turkey’s largest industrial conglomerate, and is a major Turkish manufacturer of civilian vehicles (mainly buses and mini-buses) and makes the multipurpose Cobra armored vehicle, 4X4 armored personnel carriers and a variety of other armored vehicles for military and internal security use.

  • Roket Sanayii ve Ticaret A.S (Roketsan)

Roketsan is Turkey’s chief producer of rockets and missiles. The company has been heavily involved in several major consortium projects, including European production of Stinger surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Roketsan also makes the 122mm Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and the 300mm T-300 Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL).

  • Turk Havacılık ve Uzay Sanayii A.S. / Turkish Aerospace Industries, Inc. (Turkish acronym: TUSAS; English acronym: TAI)

Parent Company TUSAS Aerospace Industries (TUSAS) merged into a single corporate identity in 2005 with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Turkey’s second-largest defense company (TDN, March 16, 2005). There were initial fears that the merger would harm competition, as the SSM might feel obliged to sole-source work to the new arms giant. Since April 5, 2007, the company has been known as TUSAS in Turkish and TAI in English.

TAI bought out Lockheed-Martin’s 42% share and General Electronics International’s 7% share in the company in January 2006 as part of an effort by SSM and TSKGV to consolidate the Turkish defense industry. Murad Bayar suggested as much as 80% of the company could eventually be privatized (Jane’s Defence Weekly, January 25, 2006).

TAI maintains a factory on the Murted Air Base near Ankara, where it was involved in a joint project through the late 1980s to the late 1990s with General Dynamics and General Electric to build 240 F-16 C/C aircraft (with TUSAS holding a 51% interest in the project). A number of these planes were sold abroad to other Middle Eastern countries.

TAI partnered with Construcciones Aeronauticas, S.A. (CASA) of Spain to build 52 CN-235 medium-range, twin turbo-prop transport/maritime patrol aircraft for Turkish use. TAI also manufactures parts for Eurocopter Cougar AS-5322 search and rescue helicopters and Aermacchi SF-260-D trainers (Anatolia, February 26, 2008). TAI is involved in the modernization of 69 Northrop T38-A supersonic jet trainers and acts as a supplier for AgustaWestland, Airbus, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, MDHI and Sikorsky.

Most of the development of Turkey’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is being done by TAI.



Turkey’s main battle tanks are the German-built Krauss Maffei Wegmann Leopard 2A4 (built between 1985 and 1992) and the M60T, a highly upgraded version of the M60 Patton, using Israeli weapons and technology transferred to Turkish manufacturers (in Israel this version of the M60 is known as the Sabra Mk. III). After some delays, work is about to begin on an Israeli-Turkish jointly produced upgrade of 170 U.S. built M60-A1 Turkish tanks in Kayseri. The $688 million project through main contractor Israel Military Industries will use advanced systems from Israel’s Merkava main battle tank with a significant degree of technology transfer (Hurriyet, March 25, 2008). Turkish MKEK and Aselsan are both involved in the modernization project. The deal for the German Leopards involved extensive training and technology transfers as political criticism in Germany of possible Turkish use of the tanks against the Kurds diminished from previous levels (UPI, November 11, 2005).

A major upgrade of 166 Turkish Leopard 1A1/A1A4 tanks by Aselsan is nearing completion. The main focus of the upgrade was to improve the tanks’ firing systems through installation of the Turkish-produced VOLKAN fire control systems, which will allow for increased capability target acquisition in all light and weather conditions.

Turkey has committed to a major undertaking to become one of the few countries in the world to produce a main battle tank. The project’s main contractor is OTOKAR, with Aselsan, Roketsan and MKEK as sub-contractors. Four prototypes are scheduled to be delivered by 2012, with the eventual manufacture of 250 Turkish-made main battle tanks with input from South Korean or German sub-contractors.


Turkey has made several upgrades to its fleet of warplanes to better deal with the asymmetric threat. These upgrades are mostly designed to increase the air force’s capacity to operate at night and attack ground targets with precision in any kind of weather. Over 200 F-16 C/D aircraft have been fitted with Lockheed-Martin’s LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night), which consists of an externally mounted navigation pod and a targeting pod. Used in tandem, this equipment allows low-flying aircraft to strike with precision despite adverse conditions.  Turkey has the second largest fleet of F-16s in the world after the United States. Over 100 older F-4E and F-5A/B fighters have been similarly upgraded by Israeli contractors. Laser, infrared and TV-guided munitions are available for all these aircraft (World Politics Review, November 7, 2007).

In 2007 U.S. firm Lockheed Martin supplied 30 F-16 Block 50 fighters under a deal signed in 2006(, July 16, 2007). It was first proposed to mount electronic warfare systems locally made by Aselsan into the fighters, but the Air Force Command eventually settled on U.S. made ITT systems (Milliyet, February 2, 2008).

Turkey is also a participant in the multinational Joint Strike Fighter (JSF-35) project in a consortium including the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands. Turkey expects to deploy its first JSF-35 fighters in 2014. A number of Turkey’s 215 F-4 and F-16 fighters are expected to reach the end of their operational life beginning in 2010 (Anatolia, March 27, 2008). The rest will need to be decommissioned by 2020. Turkey plans to buy 100 of the F-35 fighters for an estimated $11 billion. The JSF project won over intense bidding from the manufacturers of the twin-engine Eurofighter Typhoon, produced by a British/German/Italian/Spanish consortium, Eurofighter GmbH. The consortium is leaving an option open for Turkey to join as a production partner before 2012. The selection revealed Turkey’s “asymmetric warfare” priorities – the JSF is viewed as the better option for air-to-ground attacks, while the Eurofighter is viewed as superior for air-to-air action (Turkish Daily News, May 29, 2006).

The F-16s are most useful in the counterinsurgency against the PKK when they are given precise targets beforehand. They are less useful for reconnaissance in mountainous country, a job better suited for Turkey’s Cobra helicopters. Turkey’s goal of dramatically increasing its battlefield intelligence collection capabilities will be greatly furthered when it takes delivery of four Boeing 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft (AEW&C), but delivery has been delayed for nearly two years due to problems with the software and radar. Installation of the Northrup Grumman Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array radar system is being done by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).


Turkey makes extensive use of its small fleet of attack helicopters and larger fleet of transport/utility helicopters to create a massive advantage in mobility and firepower in its struggle against the PKK. The helicopter has emerged as one of the most important tools in addressing asymmetrical military challenges. All Turkey’s attack helicopters are equipped for flying low-altitude missions using night-targeting systems.

Turkey’s search for new co-produced attack helicopters began in 1995. American firm Bell Helicopter Textron was chosen to supply 145 AH-1Z Super Cobra (or Viper) helicopters in 2000 over competition from U.S. Boeing, Italian Agusta, Franco-German Eurocopter and the Russian-Israeli Kamov-IAI. It is believed that Turkey kept Kamov in the competition long after the decision had already been made in order to put pressure on the U.S. to allow technology transfer and grant an export license, the latter being at risk at the time over human rights issues related to the conduct of Turkey’s war against Kurdish separatists.  The deal eventually fell apart in 2002 due to technology transfer issues. Negotiations then opened with the Russian-Israeli partnership Kamov-IAI but this deal too collapsed by late 2003. SSM requirements that the helicopters include Turkish produced mission computers drives many potential partners away (TDN, November 23, 2005).

In September 2007, the SSM and Agusta Westland signed a deal for the production of 51 (+41 optional) A-129 Mangusta (Mongoose) attack and reconnaissance helicopters by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Aselsan in Ankara. TAI is the main contractor. The engines are to be made by Tusas Engines Industries in Turkey (Today’s Zaman, March 31, 2008).  This was not the end of Turkey’s long search for attack helicopters, however, as the deal with Agusta was thrown into jeopardy in late March when the U.S. refused Agusta’s request for the transfer of technology used in the helicopters’ T800 engines. There is also dissatisfaction reported in the TGS over the suitability of the A-129 – the helicopter has never been exported before and has only seen service with the Italian armed forces. The military is said to prefer bids by Eurocopter and Boeing (Defense Industry Daily, September 17, 2007). Under the agreement with Agusta Westland, Turkey may market the helicopters anywhere in the world except Italy and Great Britain, allowing Turkey to become an exporter of helicopters for the first time.

A greater emphasis on Special Forces operations in the TSK will require more military transport helicopters. At present a fleet of 90 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters is available to transport infantry and Special Forces units. Each Black Hawk can carry sixteen men. On April 17, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announced that Turkey would purchase 84 general purpose Sikorsky S-70 Blackhawk helicopters (the export model of the UH-60) from the United States in a deal worth $2.5 billion, though not all the helicopters are for military use (Anatolia, April 17, 2008; Defense News, April 14, 2008). The deal follows a 2006 purchase of 17 Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk export-model maritime helicopters (U.S. designation H-60) off-the-shelf in a $580 million deal (DefenseNews, July 16, 2007).

Turkey’s 32 single-engine AH-1 Cobra and nine twin-engine AH-1W Super-Cobra attack helicopters have seen extensive service in the campaign against PKK militants in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The helicopters are made by Bell Helicopter Textron. Efforts to obtain ten additional used Cobra helicopters from the United States have failed, due officially to American needs in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the appropriateness of the request after U.S. firms had effectively been disqualified from competing in the attack helicopter competition may have played a role (, January 28, 2008; Today’s Zaman, April 13, 2008). Turkey’s existing Super-Cobras have been heavily upgraded and are fully capable of night operations.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Turkey possesses a number of types of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), which it has used to great advantage in the difficult terrain of southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. UAV data is analyzed at Batman Air Force base while operational orders based on this intelligence are made at 2nd Army headquarters at Malatya (Hurriyet, March 25, 2008).

Turkish drones include the following types:

  • GNAT-750 – Produced by General Atomic, this surveillance system has a 48 hour flight time and can carry a 150 kg payload. Turkey purchased eight of these in the 1990s but only one or two remain operational (Turkish Daily News, December 27, 2007).
  • Harpy –Turkey bought roughly 100 of these from Israel Aircraft Industries in 1999. With a 500 km range, the Harpy is designed to detect, attack and destroy enemy radar installations.
  • Heron – The Israeli-made Heron TP (known as the “Eitan” by the Israeli Air Force) is described as a “medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV,” capable of carrying out a variety of operational missions while staying in the air for several days at a time. The aircraft is 46 feet long, weighs five tons and can carry an additional half-ton of sensors in its forward section. A single Canadian-made 1,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney turbo-prop engine allows the craft to fly at altitudes over 40,000 feet with a 1,000 km range and 250 kg payload.

There is strong dissatisfaction within the TSK with the failure of state-run Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems to meet the delivery deadline of October 2007 for the Heron UAVs, with delivery now pushed back to spring 2008. A malfunctioning camera system produced by a Turkish subcontractor has been blamed for the delay (CP, December 27, 2007). To mollify the TSK, the Israelis offered to lease IAI Heron UAVs together with Israeli operating crews for a twelve-month period at a cost of $10 million (Haaretz, December 27, 2007). The work of the Israeli crews in gathering intelligence on the PKK was recognized publicly by Defense Minister Gonul (CNN Turk, February 12, 2008).

The Israeli firms beat out U.S. (General Atomic Predator) and French competition to supply 20-30 UAVs in a contract worth nearly $200 million. Turkey is expected to finally take delivery of ten Israeli Herons in mid-2008.

Based on its favorable experience with UAVs, Turkey is determined to master the necessary technology and bring its own models online. Turkish-made drones were first deployed operationally in late January, 2008 (Anatolia, January 28, 2008). UAV types under development include:

  • TIHA – Turkey is working on its own version of the Heron, the Turkish Indigenous Medium Altitude Long Endurance UAV. Prototypes are in development and it is hoped that the first flight will take place in 2009. TIHA is projected to fly for 24 hours at a maximum height of 30,000 feet in a variety of weather conditions.
  • Gozcu – The Gozcu close range tactical UAV is designed and manufactured by TAI. With a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet, this surveillance platform can transmit live video feeds over 50km. TAI is likely to begin mass-production of the Gozcu after successful trials.
  • Turna: TAI launched a successful test flight of its “Turna” target drone in April 2008. The Turna is made entirely in Turkey, with a turbo-prop engine built by TEI (TAI Press Bulletin, April 4, 2008).


Having declined participation in the proposed U.S. anti-ballistic missile shield, Turkey is currently seeking to fill a $1.4 billion contract for four long-range missile and air defense systems, though there are reports that Turkey is now seeking anywhere from four to twelve additional systems (Sabah, April 30; Today’s Zaman, March 19, 2008).  Russia is offering the S-400 Triumf air defense system (NATO designation: SA-21 Growler), which has already interested Iran and China, among others. The S-400 system is built by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau and is a substantially upgraded version of the S-300 system, which Russia had offered initially. Russian sources claim the system is capable of destroying stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles (RIA Novosti, April 30, 2008; see also Eurasia Daily Monitor, May 7, 2008).

Long-term Russian support and maintenance for the system is a major concern for Turkey (Today’s Zaman, October 3, 2007). A previous purchase of Russian-made BTR infantry fighting vehicles and M-17 helicopters ended badly when Russia failed to provide spare parts or maintenance assistance for these products, eventually rendering them useless to the TSK.

U.S. companies Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon are also competing for the missile contract, offering Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) 2 and PAC 3 upgraded missiles through Foreign Military Sales credits. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned Turkey of interoperability problems with NATO systems if Turkey goes with the Russian bid (Today’s Zaman, April 14, 2008). Despite this, Russia may still be able to seal the deal if it offers significant technology transfer as part of its package. China has offered its HQ-9 medium to long range missile system partly based on the Russian S-300 system and, allegedly, the U.S. Patriot system. The SSM is now looking into the procurement of low-altitude air defense systems (Today’s Zaman, April 10, 2008).

Turkey - AW 2Naval Forces

With Turkey’s extensive coastlines and dependence on maritime shipping Turkey’s navy (Turk Deniz Kuvvetleri – TDK), plays a vital role in guaranteeing the security and economic safety of the nation. According to SSM director Murad Baytal; “After the embargo in 1974, we adopted the idea that ‘we can build our ships in our own shipyards’ and took extra investment on shipbuilding” (Defence Turkey Magazine 2(10), 2008).

Turkey is working towards becoming an independent builder of larger naval vessels through MILGEM (Milli Gemi), the National Ship Project, launched in 2005 at the naval shipyards in Istanbul. MILGEM is intended to provide the Turkish navy with twelve modern corvettes equipped with Mk.41 vertical launching systems and indigenously produced GENESIS combat management systems. The first product of this program, TCG Heybeliada, is scheduled for launch in September 2008, with commissioning in 2011.  Work on a second ship has been started. Havelsan and Aselsan are both involved in the supply and integration of naval warfare systems on this project.

Istanbul’s Yonca Onuk shipyard (which normally specializes in fast patrol craft) is building two to four new submarines for completion in 2014 under the New Type Submarine Project. Turkey hopes to build most of the ships with a foreign contractor as the technology supplier in a project that might be worth $2.5 to 3 billion. German, French and Spanish firms have put in bids for the contract (Defense News, April 14, 2008). An Aselsan-Havelsan partnership has been given the task of renewing the equipment and systems of Turkey’s diesel-electric Atilay class submarines (Today’s Zaman, April 10, 2008). Yonca Onuk is also involved in the Fast Intervention Patrol Boat project. The construction of eight new corvettes is currently underway and work has begun on a $535 million contract with Istanbul’s Dearsan shipyards for the local construction of sixteen modern patrol boats. Yonca Onuk has successfully marketed its speed patrol boats to Malaysia, Georgia and Pakistan.

Prior to recent initiatives to develop Turkish shipbuilding capacity, much of the activity in this sector was carried out in cooperative projects with German firms. The main naval shipyard at Golcuk built frigates and submarines in the 1990s, while smaller shipyards produced a wide variety of naval craft, including fast-attack boats, destroyers, auxiliary ships and a host of small vessels.

On December 5, 2007, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announced that Turkish shipyards would undertake the construction of four new frigates at a cost of $1.6 billion (EDM, December 6, 2007). If successful, the TF-2000 project will end Turkey’s reliance on second-hand frigates from the United States, many of which were supplied on favorable terms in order to shift the Turkish market for naval technology away from Germany (Turkish Daily News, October 25, 2007). The frigate project will rely heavily on lessons learned in the MILGEM corvette project.

One of the main aims of April 2008’s Turkish- led naval exercise by the Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Force (BlackSeaFor, involving ships from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania) was training in “joint action to rebuff asymmetrical threats” (Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, April 10, 2008).


A Strained Relationship: The United States

The United State’s role as Turkey’s dominant arms supplier began with the application of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, which mandated the sales of large quantities of arms to Turkey and Greece to prevent them from falling under Soviet rule. The United States has dominated Turkish arms supply ever since, but Turkey is beginning to show a new willingness to seek military equipment elsewhere. U.S. sales to Turkey usually take the form of government-to-government sales through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program administered by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), or through commercial sales through tenders or sole-source purchases.

A limited embargo on U.S. arms sales to Turkey in 1975 following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was a major factor in spurring Turkish efforts to develop self-sufficiency in arms production. Being cut off from its NATO ally compelled Turkish planners to look at previously untapped sources of military hardware and technology. A military electronics industry was formed to begin domestic production of military technology.

In 1995 and again in 1997 the U.S. State Department produced reports documenting the use of U.S.- supplied weapons in human rights abuses against Kurdish civilians in southeastern Turkey. (U.S. Department of State, 95/06/01 Report on Human Rights in Turkey and Situation in Cyprus; U.S. Department of State, U.S. Military Equipment and Human Rights Violations, Report to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 1, 1997). The fallout from these reports had a negative effect on the sales of U.S. attack helicopters to Turkey. U.S. grants and loans for Turkish arms purchases from American manufacturers were cut off in 1998 when it was determined Turkey’s finances were strong enough to manage without such assistance (similar aid to Greece was suspended at the same time).

Turkey’s emphasis on technology transfers has run up against U.S. restrictions on military technology transfers, creating a significant impediment to continued U.S. arms sales to Turkey. US officials have expressed dislike for the SSM’s 2005 rules of acquisition, accusing the SSM of hindering NATO interoperability. The U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO told a House of Representatives panel in March 2007 that the SSM was “hindering Turkey’s military modernization, interoperability with NATO allies and U.S.-Turkey defense industry cooperation… Onerous terms and conditions — liability, work share, technology transfer and upfront U.S. government approval requirements in Turkey’s standard contracts have kept U.S. firms from bidding” (DefenseNews, July 16, 2007). These restrictions played a major part in the inability of US firms to obtain a number of helicopter contracts from the SSM. Though the SSM has acted to ease Turkish conditions regarding such transfers in order to allow U.S. firms to re-enter the bidding process on Turkish arms tenders, existing Turkish demands for companies to obtain advance government authorization for export licenses have run afoul of U.S. law, creating continuing problems for U.S. manufacturers seeking to bid on Turkish arms projects (Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 9, 2007).

One benefit to the United States of arms sales to Turkey is enhanced interoperability of weapons systems with a NATO ally. This was one of the reasons cited by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (responsible for approving foreign arms sales) in its recent approval of a $227 million sale of six ship-based MK-41 vertical launch systems and two MK 41 VLS upgrade kits by Lockheed Martin Corporation (Reuters, April 9, 2008).

A new phase in Turkish-U.S. military cooperation began in November 2007, when the White House agreed to begin supplying real-time intelligence on northern Iraq to the TSK (EDM, November 6, 2007). Turkey remains one of the world’s leading markets for U.S. arms, but much of the Turkish arms development project appears designed to wean Turkey from reliance on U.S. supplies.

A New Defense Partner: Israel

The 1996 Turkish-Israeli deal on defense industry cooperation was intended to improve Turkey’s own domestic defense industry. There were initial hopes that the deal would allow for the transfer of U.S. military technology normally available only to Israel but this did not materialize despite Israel receiving a number of large contracts for upgrading Turkish tanks and warplanes. The impetus for military cooperation came from the TSK, while the Turkish government displayed greater reluctance to embrace Israel as an ally, denying the expectations of some observers who predicted the defense pact would draw the two nations into a strategic relationship (EDM, December 6, 2007; February 13, 2008).

In 2003 an $8 million contract with Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) to upgrade Turkey’s C-130 Hercules transports was cancelled due to IAI’s failure to meet the terms of the contract. A visit from Israel’s defense minister followed to assure Ankara that this would not happen again (Journal of Electronic Defense, July 1, 2003).

There is a growing dissatisfaction with the defense industry relationship with Israel, with complaints over substandard work, Israeli reluctance in technology transfers and delays in important projects, such as the much-needed Heron UAV project (EDM, December 6, 2007). There has also been substantial criticism of Turkish-Israeli defense cooperation from Turkey’s Islamist press; recently a columnist for Yeni Safak asked, “How much longer are we supposed to bear the shame of maintaining cooperation with Israel in [the] defense industry?” (Yeni Safak, January 23, 2008). Turkey is one of only four countries in the Islamic world to recognize Israel but there are substantial concerns in the AKP government with regard to Israel’s Palestinian policies. There are also concerns with the activities of Israeli security advisors and businesses supplying training and military equipment to Kurdish northern Iraq (Haaretz, December 27, 2007).

At a delicate time in Israeli-Turkish relations, the Israeli Knesset has scheduled a discussion on the “Armenian genocide issue, despite a request by a Turkish parliamentary delegation to cancel the discussion. The Chairman of the Turkish Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Hasan Murat Mercan, stated “I am convinced that Israel recognizes the negative implications this may have on ties between the two countries” (Haaretz, April 11, 2008).

Despite these tensions, Turkey continues to play an important role as an intermediary in peace discussions between Israel and Syria, though Turkey’s parliamentary opposition has raised concerns over the possibility of Turkish water sales to Israel (Hurriyet, May 28).

The Russian Alternative

As a NATO member, Turkey did not purchase arms from the Soviet Union, Russia’s predecessor state. During the embargo on U.S. arms in the mid-1990s, Turkey turned to Russia for tanks and military helicopters, but the relationship quickly turned sour when it turned out the agreement did not call for continuing logistical support and the Russian arms firms refused to provide the same.  A deal was finally struck with a Rosoboronexport subsidiary to provide support, but this too failed when the company became embroiled in corruption charges in Russia and could not fulfill the contract (Today’s Zaman, April 15, 2008).

In April 2008, Russia’s state-managed Rosoboronexport won out over Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and U.S. Raytheon for the Turkish contract for 800 medium-range antitank missile systems and 800 missiles (Kommersant, April 10, 2008; Agentstvo Voyennykh Novostey, April 14, 2008). The $80 to $100 million purchase of the Metis M-1 systems followed the success of Lebanon’s Hizbullah in using Russian-made antitank missiles against Israeli troops and armor in the summer war of 2006 (see Terrorism Focus, August 15, 2006). Though the systems will be purchased ready-made, there will still be substantial technology transfer in the deal (Interfax, May 2, 2008).

In the last few years Russia has joined Turkey in several military exercises focused on combating asymmetrical threats in the Black Sea region. These joint initiatives follow centuries of Russian-Turkish struggles for control of the Black Sea.

The Eastern Alternative: Korea

South Korea, through its state-managed Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), is seeking to build a long-term defense partnership with Turkey based on full and unrestricted technology sharing. KAI won the contract for 45-60 T-50 jet trainers (developed with help from Lockheed-Martin) over U.S., Brazilian and Swiss bids. The latter was hampered by a Swiss decision to open political debate on the Armenian genocide claims, while the U.S. bid suffered from restrictions on technology transfers. According to KAI’s James Park; “We are prepared to provide the Turkish industry with unlimited technology transfer, which should help Turkey’s future indigenous aviation programs… We can share our experience in these programs with Turkish companies like TAI, Havelsan, Aselsan and others” (TDN, October 26, 2005).


Gathering Intelligence by Satellite

The $250 million Gokturk Satellite project represents a significant effort by Turkey’s defense establishment to provide an independent solution to its intelligence needs that is not reliant on the political winds. Designed as a surveillance and reconnaissance satellite, Gokturk will be produced within Turkey under license. One of the main purposes of Gokturk will be the detection of terrorists crossing the Turkish border. It will also have a number of civilian uses, such as mapping, forest control, detecting illegal construction and assessing damage after natural disaster (Anatolia, April 4, 2008; see also Eurasia Daily Monitor, June 4, 2008).

Deployment of Gokturk will relieve Turkish reliance on U.S. and Israeli satellite data and the limited information available from its commercial satellites. The contract specifies that the satellite must be able to collect high-resolution intelligence data over any part of the world, without restriction. A bid by Israeli Aerospace Industries (manufacturers of the Ofek [Horizon] spy satellite) already appears to have fallen by the wayside over state-required restrictions over Israeli airspace (EDM, December 6, 2007; Today’s Zaman, December 6). Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Ankara in February 2008 in an apparently unsuccessful effort to revive the deal. Political reluctance to deal with Israel has at times manifested itself in severe criticism of Israel’s Palestinian policies, especially under the AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Israel’s unsuccessful 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon and their “disproportionate response” to Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza have opened a deep rift with the Turkish public.  It would seem normal at this point to predict there is little chance that Israel will be the beneficiary of many major arms contracts in the near future, but the ongoing Heron UAV deliveries and the Israeli upgrade of Turkey’s M60-A1 tanks suggest a certain latitude and pragmatism still dominates the assignment of Turkish defense contracts. (Haaretz, January 24, 2008; EDM, February 13, 2008).

Turkey has been unable to decide between the remaining three satellite contractors, Italy’s Telespazio, Germany’s OHB-System and British EADS Astrium. The British and Italian bids have been tainted, in Turkish eyes, by their inclusion of French partners – France recognized the “Armenian genocide” in May 1998, earning deep Turkish disapproval. The French decision was responsible for the scrapping of an earlier satellite project with French communications company Alcatel. Disagreements between the TSK and SSM over the current bids continue to hold up the project (Today’s Zaman, April 10).


A number of significant trends can be identified that are actually developing hand-in-hand:

  • A still mostly state-controlled Turkish defense industry has benefitted from government efforts to make Turkey a major international arms exporter but there remains a possibility that efforts at consolidation may result in a lack of competitiveness.
  •  “Offsets” in Turkish production contracts and an ability to produce beyond Turkey’s substantial needs permit the growth of an export trade in arms.
  • Government regulated reinvestment of profits from the export trade allows steady growth in the arms industry.
  • Licensed production of arms and military equipment is regarded as a stepping-stone to the production of indigenous designs.
  • Involvement in consortiums allows Turkey to become involved in the production of the major arms systems it requires to remain battle-ready and inter-operational with its NATO allies in a conventional war.
  • Joint production through consortiums is at the same time regarded as less desirable in cases other than those above as it has not had the expected effect of upgrading the Turkish defense industry.
  • Reforms to the old conscript army are designed to create a better-trained professional army capable of greater reliance on new (and preferably indigenously made) military technology.
  • There is a greater emphasis on producing or obtaining arms and equipment that will aid in countering asymmetric threats such as terrorism or insurgency.
  • There is no longer a preferred source for this equipment – Turkey is ready to buy battle-proven arms from anyone willing to provide them without restrictions (and especially those who don’t use their national legislatures to debate Turkish historical issues).
  • Increased sharing of intelligence from the United States is not being taken for granted, as shown by Turkey’s efforts to develop new intelligence sources of its own, e.g., UAVs and military satellites.
  • Technology Transfer is a major and often decisive requirement in most Turkish contract tenders for military arms and equipment.
  • The Turkish defense establishment is pushing the Turkish arms industry in the direction of independent production of high-tech weapons.
  • The choice of the Agusta-Westland Mangusta helicopter demonstrates that the TGS is no longer the dominant partner in the civil-military controlled SSM, Turkey’s military procurement agency.
  • Embargos and like restrictions have compelled Turkey (like many others in similar situations in the past) to seek self-reliance in arms projects. Necessity has jump-started Turkey’s weapons development program successfully enough to allow the state to entertain ambitions of becoming a major global arms supplier.

Turkey’s drive for self-sufficiency in arms has brought about administrative, financial, political and military reforms designed to enable Turkey to remain a regional power capable of independent action outside its borders if it feels its national integrity is threatened. New directions are being explored in the fields of research, development and procurement to not only make Turkey self-reliant, but to allow it to become a major international arms supplier.

The drive for self-sufficiency in arms should by no means be interpreted as a trend towards military isolationism. Turkey continues to value its alliances and recognizes that international cooperation is the quickest path to victory in any conflict. Disputes with its European defense partners originate not in an unwillingness to cooperate, but a perception that Europe does not take Turkey’s security concerns seriously enough and is hesitant to fully integrate Turkey into European defense structures. New agreements with the United States on intelligence-sharing are a major step in alleviating suspicions within the Turkish military command about the sincerity of American rhetoric on the “global war on terrorism.”

Though concerns remain in Ankara about the future of Turkey’s relations with Greece, its long-time adversary and simultaneous NATO ally, Turkey’s priorities in arms procurement are now directed to the TSK’s deployment in southeastern Turkey. Here the military struggle is a classic example of asymmetric warfare, in which a proportionately smaller and weaker opponent (in this case the PKK) attempts to exploit perceived weaknesses in a larger and better armed adversary. The PKK’s strengths have been knowledge of the terrain, refuge in bases located across international boundaries, a willing supply of new recruits who identify with an ethnic/nationalist program, and the availability of propaganda outlets outside the control of the dominant power. Following decades of military successes that have had little effect on the continued existence of the PKK, Turkey has lately begun to find means of countering the PKK’s asymmetric advantages. Superior intelligence from Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles and American satellites have removed the PKKs ability to move about unobserved, improved relations with the Kurdish authorities of northern Iraq have permitted unopposed cross-border strikes on previously safe PKK bases and the initiation of new economic and social programs in ethnic-Kurdish southeastern Turkey hold the promise of drying up PKK sources of manpower. The existence of PKK propaganda outlets in places like Belgium and Germany is proving more problematic, but given that the aforementioned problems seemed insurmountable not long ago, there is hope that this difficulty may also be addressed to Turkey’s satisfaction in the near future.


AKP: Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – Justice and Development Party

DSCA: Defense Security Cooperation Agency (U.S.)

ESDP: European Security and Defense Policy

EU: European Union

FMS: Foreign Military Sales program (U.S.)

GENESIS: Gemi Entegre Savab Ydare Sistemi

IAI: Israeli Aircraft Industries

IBDA-C: İslami Buyukdogu Akıncılar Cephesi: Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front

ISAF: International Security Assistance Force (Afghanistan)

JGK:  Jandarma Genel Komutanligi: Gendarmerie General Command

JSF: Joint Strike Fighter

KKK: Kara Kuvvetleri Komutanligi: Land Forces Command

LANTIRN: Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night

MILGEM: Milli Gemi – National Ship Project

MKEK: Makina ve Kimya Endüstrisi Kurumu (Mechanical and Chemical Industries Corporation)

MLRS: Multiple Launch Rocket System

PKK: Partiya Karkere Kurdistan – Kurdistan Workers Party

ROCKETSAN: Roket Sanayii ve Ticaret A.S.

SAM: Surface-to-Air Missile

SGK: Sahil Guvenlik Komutanligi – CGC: Coast Guard Command

SSIK: Savunma Sanayii Icra Komitesi: Defense Industry Implementation Committee

SSM: Savunma Sanayii Mustesarligi (SSM) – Ministry of National Defense       Undersecretariat for Defense Industries

TAFC: Turk Hava Kuvvetleri:  Turkish Air Forces Command

TAI: Turkish Aerospace Industries

TDF: Turkish Defense Fund

TDK: Turk Deniz Kuvvetleri: Turkish Naval Forces

TFLC: Turkish Land Forces Command: Kara Kuvvetleri Komutanligi  (KKK)

TGS: Turkish General Staff: Turk Genelkurmay Baskanligi

TLF: Turkish Land Forces

TNFC: Turk Deniz Kuvvetleri: Turkish Naval Forces Command

TSK: Turk Silahli Kuvvetleri – Turkish Armed Forces

TSKGV: Turk Silahli Kuvvetlerini Guclendirme Vafki: Turkish Armed Forces Foundation

TUSAS: Turk Ucak Sanayi Sirketi – TAI since April 5, 2007

UNIFIL: United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

WEU: Western European Union

WMD: Weapons of Mass Destruction


Turkey’s Operation Gunes Attempts to Eliminate the PKK Threat

Andrew McGregor

February 27, 2008

As Turkish troops and armor cross the border as part of Operation Gunes (Sun), the embattled nation of Iraq is once more host to a major military offensive, this time in its remote and sparsely populated northeastern region. Surprising many who expected Turkey to wait until spring before launching its expected drive to destroy bases of the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) appear to have taken the initiative in the decades-old struggle with a risky winter campaign. Despite the deep snow still covering this mountainous battleground, the TSK has taken advantage of optimal political conditions to preempt the PKK’s traditional spring offensive.

Operation GunesIraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari described the raid as a “limited military incursion,” but one with the potential to “destabilize the region, because really one mistake could lead to further escalation” (BBC, February 23). The Turkish General Staff states TSK troops “will return home in the shortest time possible after its goals have been achieved” (Turkish Daily News, February 23). Those goals remain loosely defined as neutralizing “members of the terrorist organization PKK/ KONGRA-GEL stationed in the north of Iraq and to destroy organizational infrastructure in the region” (Hurriyet, February 23), but may also include an attack on the main PKK/Kongra Gel base in the Qandil Mountains, nearly 60 miles from the Turkish border. The Turkish press has been warned away from the area of operations.

Minimal international reaction to a series of small raids and regular cross-border bombardments over the last year confirmed for Turkey’s leadership that opposition to a major strike on PKK targets in northern Iraq would only be minor—if civilian casualties could be held to a minimum. As a result, a major cross-border operation that was unthinkable a year ago has become reality today.

A Carefully Planned Attack

The incursion began on the night of February 21-22 after an intensive cross-border bombardment by long-range artillery and aircraft. Operation Gunes is led by the 2nd Army Command in Malatya and overseen by the 7th Army Corps in Diyarbakir (Milliyet, February 22). Turkish infantry and Special Forces are receiving close aerial support from Turkey’s small fleet of Cobra attack helicopters. Transport helicopters are also being used to move elite Gendarmerie and Special Forces teams past difficult snow-bound areas. Thousands of men have been moved up to the border to prevent a PKK flight into Turkey’s southeastern provinces and to stand ready should Turkish forces in Iraq require reinforcements. Small bases with helicopter pads, thermal cameras and artillery have been set up near PKK infiltration routes in the Cudi, Gabar, Kupeli, Tanin and Kato mountains (Today’s Zaman, February 19). Turkish Special Forces are also using Sikorsky transport helicopters to assault PKK positions within Turkey near Sirnak (Milliyet, February 22).

There are signs that PKK formations have broken into smaller groups in an effort to evade Turkish forces, some moving southward, deeper into Iraq. There are reports of confusion in the PKK ranks after some of their positions were bypassed by Turkish troops, leaving the fighters wondering what the TSK’s real intention was (Khaleej Times, February 24). Preparatory aerial and artillery attacks have disrupted PKK communications and sparked dissension within the movement’s ranks. Turkish warplanes continue to run dozens of sorties each day, with the PKK leadership apparently ranking as prime targets. The TSK also claims to have destroyed large concentrations of PKK military equipment, including explosives, anti-aircraft weapons and stores of land mines (Hurriyet, February 25).

Operation GunesTurkish Forces Fire Rockets on PKK Targets during Operation Gunes

The PKK reported clashes almost immediately in the Zagros Mountains region near the intersection of the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, February 22). Operations were also carried out in the Hakurk region, south of the Turkish border city of Cukurca, which is a main base for helicopter gunships operating across the border (Turkish Daily News, February 23; Hurriyet, February 25). The PKK claims to have shot down one helicopter near the border on Saturday, killing eight Turkish soldiers (Hurriyet, February 25). The TSK has acknowledged the loss of the helicopter, but mentions only “unspecified reasons” as the cause of the crash (Today’s Zaman, February 25). Warplanes and helicopters also work out of the military base at Diyarbakir, the scene of local Kurdish protests against the military operation.

The actual size of the Turkish forces taking part in the raid is subject to some dispute—figures range from U.S. military estimates of a few hundred men to Turkish press reports of 15,000 soldiers (Hurriyet, February 23; Milliyet, February 22). One report claimed the participation of 3,000 members of Turkey’s Special Forces (CNN Turk, February 23). The Special Forces have been carrying out specialized training for months now at bases in southeastern Turkey in preparation for the attack.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that the United States is still supplying the TSK with real-time intelligence on PKK activities in Iraq. A White House spokesman also confirmed that Turkey had provided the United States with advance notice about its intentions (New Anatolian, February 23). The PKK note that Turkish warplanes inevitably follow U.S. surveillance flights (Firat News Agency, February 24). Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by private teams of Israeli personnel are also being used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering.

After weeks of heavy aerial bombardment, PKK bases at Zap and Avasin are reported to have been overrun by Turkish troops carried in at night by Sikorsky helicopters with night-vision equipment. Special Forces teams in Zap were reported to be hunting Yucel Halis—also known as Aliser—a PKK commander who oversaw an October 2007 bombing in Semdinli that killed 13 soldiers. The Zap base was heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns and explosives placed around the perimeter (Cumhuriyet, February 26). Survivors were observed fleeing toward the PKK main base in the Qandil mountains after leaving behind booby traps and land mines to slow the Turkish advance. Some fighters attempted to escape in rubber boats down a small brook (Yeni Safak, February 26).

The PKK Threatens to Expand the Battle

PKK spokesman Ahmed Danis warned: “If Ankara continues its attacks we will carry out guerrilla operations in Turkish cities, trying to avoid the civilian population.” Unless Turkey ceased its raids into northern Iraq, the PKK “will move the theatre of combat to the heart of Turkish cities” (Gulf Daily News [Bahrain], February 24). Dr. Bahoz Erdal, the commander of the Hezen Parastina Gel (People’s Defense Force—the PKK’s military wing), has called on Kurdish youth in Turkey’s urban centers to unite and burn cars or do whatever else they can to make life in the cities unbearable. “In the big cities, Kurdish youth must give their reply to the military operations. Kurdistan’s guerrillas are not just 7,000 or 10,000, they number hundreds of thousands. They are everywhere …” (Firat News Agency, February 24).

The offensive has solid support from most of the Turkish opposition parties, but the Kurdish-based Democratic Society Party (DTP) has questioned whether the PKK is the sole target, while also refuting the possibility of a military solution to the decades-old conflict: “The solution is possible solely within the borders of Turkey. The [ruling] Justice and Development party (AKP) has prepared its own end with the operation” (Turkish Daily News, February 23).

Reaction from the Kurdistan Regional Government

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is seeking a withdrawal of Turkish forces and the implementation of three-way talks between Arbil (the KRG regional capital), Washington and Ankara. Though a statement from the office of KRG President Massoud Barzani warned of “massive resistance” in the event of civilian casualties, the Iraqi Red Crescent reports only minor civilian displacement and no civilian casualties in the opening days of the offensive (Reuters, February 23). Many people who use mountain pastures in the summer spend the winter in the plains or sheltered valleys, leaving the mountains largely empty of residents until spring. The KRG peshmerga militias do not usually patrol the region.

Only a day before the raid, Barzani warned of Turkish designs on Kurdish northern Iraq and the danger arising from repeated violations of Iraqi sovereignty. “There is a limit to our patience. If Turkish raids continue against Kurdistan and continue to affect people’s lives, we will not keep silent much longer” (al-Arabiya TV, February 25; Kurdish Globe, February 25). The peshmerga have been put on alert, but Barzani has urged the 80,000-strong Kurdish militia to show restraint in dealing with the incursion. On their part, the TSK has said in reference to the peshmerga that “local elements that do not resort to hostile acts against the Turkish Armed Forces” will not be harmed (Today’s Zaman, February 22).

The KRG reported a confrontation between the peshmerga and a detachment of Turkish troops, stationed on the Iraqi side of the border under a 1996 agreement with Baghdad that allows for Turkish monitoring of PKK activities in northern Iraq. A spokesman claimed that Turkish troops and armor tried to leave their camps near Duhok in defiance of the conditions of the agreement, but were forced back by units of the peshmerga (Today’s Zaman, February 22). Local sources reported that the peshmerga surrounded the Turkish troops and threatened to open fire, but both peshmerga authorities and the Turkish General Staff have denied the incident ever occurred (Hurriyet, February 24). More peshmerga units are being moved into the Duhok area, close to Turkish operations in the Hakurk region (New Anatolian, February 22). Other peshmerga have been moved to the Zakho, Amadiya, Sersing and Kanimasi regions along the Turkish-Iraqi border (Anatolia, February 24). As Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security advisor, warns, the longer Turkish soldiers stay inside Iraqi territory, the more likely a confrontation between Kurdish peshmerga and Turkish troops becomes (Hurriyet, February 26).

Reports continue that Turkish garrisons inside Iraq are taking unspecified “measures” to prevent fleeing PKK fighters from melting into the local Kurdish population (Today’s Zaman, February 25). The TSK has also made it clear that it expects “local Iraqi groups” (i.e., the peshmerga) to “prevent the PKK terrorist group members from entering their region and finding safe haven there.” Iran, whose Revolutionary Guards have also been engaged in fighting against Qandil-based Kurdish separatists, has moved troops up to its northern border with Iraq to prevent Kurdish fighters from seeking refuge across the frontier (Today’s Zaman, February 25).


After more than a year of intensive political and military preparation, Ankara is determined to make an end of the PKK. Despite politically necessary threats of “massive resistance,” the KRG has too much at stake to risk all in support of radical Marxists from across the Turkish border. The carefully engineered political conditions are so right for the timing of this offensive that it is taking place at a minimal diplomatic cost. The question is whether this is yet another in a series of limited Turkish attacks on the PKK that will fail to bring the struggle to a conclusion. There are abundant indications that Turkish forces will now go so far as to march into the main PKK base at Mount Qandil to eliminate the PKK threat. Operation Gunes is clearly having a devastating effect on the PKK leadership and infrastructure, but an intensive diplomatic and political campaign will be required to sustain and preserve the TSK’s success in delivering a decisive blow to the threat of PKK militancy.

This article first appeared in the February 28, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

The Shaykh Said Revolt and Ankara’s Return to the Past in its Struggle with the Kurds

By Andrew McGregor

February 7, 2008

After the recent admission by some of Turkey’s leading former military commanders that the military option was not the best or only way of resolving Turkey’s Kurdish problem, it is now becoming clear that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is taking a new direction—looking for a solution in Islam. Ottoman nostalgia is an important element in the AKP’s approach, which hearkens back to a time when Turks and Kurds were united under Islam and the caliphate. In turning to Islam, the AKP is entering into a three-way struggle to mobilize Kurdish Islam for political ends following years of insurgency and terrorism led by the radical secular nationalists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Revising their approach, the PKK is now beginning to vie for the support of southeastern Turkey’s conservative Kurdish community. This support is also sought for other purposes by more shadowy groups like the Turkish Hezbollah and even Turkey’s far-right “deep state” extremists.

Elections Approach

With the entry of the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) into mainstream Turkish politics, there was initially some speculation that this would mark the beginning of a political solution to the Kurdish problem. In practice, the AKP has decided not so much to pull the Kurdish DTP into Turkish politics as to eliminate it through legal and political means. The AKP envisions becoming the representative party of a new Islamic Kurdistan, creating social ties through charitable Islamic NGOs that will eventually lead to the development of a new political power-base for the AKP in southeastern Turkey. With regional elections approaching next year, the AKP is determined to increase the surprising strength the party showed in the region during the last elections.

AKP rule has benefited the Kurdish middle class through investment initiatives while the Gülen movement and other NGOs have stepped in to provide assistance to the lower classes of Kurdish society. The DTP accuses the AKP and other Islamic organizations of using charity to wean Kurdish voters from the DTP (Today’s Zaman, December 31, 2007). With the DTP still tightly tied to imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s continuing series of terrorist bombings is alienating Kurdish voters who might otherwise support the DTP.

In a recent interview with two aides of PKK military leader Murat Karayılan, the PKK officials admit that the AKP’s popular stand on removing the ban on Islamic headscarves for women poses a serious threat to Kurdish support for the PKK and DTP. PKK enthusiasm for an armed solution to the conflict appears to be waning (Sabah, February 5). A boost in social welfare in southeastern Turkey is directed at the poorer classes of Kurds who have traditionally supplied the manpower for local insurgencies.

  1. Shaykh SaidShaykh Said

The Shaykh Said Revolt of 1925

In the early post-war days of the Turkish Republic, Kurdish nationalists quickly realized they did not have the necessary support to mobilize the masses as part of their aim of achieving independence for Kurdistan. A number of present and former military officers formed the secret Azadi (Freedom) group with the intent of providing military support for a revolt to be led by religious figures capable of rousing such mass support, but the organization was broken up by Turkish security forces in 1924.

The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres had promised the creation of a new Kurdish state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, but Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s rejection of the treaty brought the nationalist project to an abrupt halt. The conservative and largely rural Kurds opposed Mustafa Kemal’s secular reforms and the abolition of the sultanate and caliphate in the early 1920s. The caliphate was the strongest bond between the Turkish and Kurdish communities in Turkey and its elimination was deeply opposed by the Kurds, who had turned out in great numbers in response to the Sultan/Caliph’s call for jihad during the First World War. As traditional religious schools were replaced by modern Western-style academies, Kurdish anger grew and both nationalists and religious leaders saw an opportunity.

The eventual rebellion, led by the Kurdish Sufi, Shaykh Said Piran, lasted only a brief two months in 1925, but marked a turning point in Kurdish-Turkish relations. This peasants’ revolt was centered in the mountains north of Diyarbakır. Only Sunni Kurds participated—the Alevi Kurds, who practice a mix of Shi’ism and Bektashi Sufism, initially favored the secular reforms as a means of freeing themselves from periodic repression by the Sunni majority. Said was sympathetic to the aims of the nationalists, but these views were not shared by his fellow shaykhs. Naqshabandi Sufi shaykhs provided the core leadership of the revolt. Though many of these had military experience during WWI, the military skills of the imprisoned Azadi veterans were still sorely missed. A Qadiri Sufi, Shaykh Mahmud, had already tried and failed to lead a rebellion only a short time earlier and a revolt by the Alevi Kurds—the Koçkiri Rebellion—had been suppressed in 1920.

Shaykh Said roused the rural population by maintaining that Islam was under attack, urging the restoration of the caliphate while using the language of martyrdom and jihad. Columns of peasants marched into towns carrying green flags and Qurans, meeting little opposition from the mostly Kurdish gendarmerie. Small detachments of regular infantry and cavalry were swept aside, with a number of artillery pieces falling into Kurdish hands. The rebellion reached its crest when 10,000 rebels besieged the walled city of Diyarbakır. Unable to take the city from its resolute commander, Mursel Pasha, the rebels began to realize the intervention of their revered shaykhs was not going to be enough to topple the Turkish state.

The inevitable government counter-offensive began in late March, with attacking planes of the Turkish Air Force driving panicked Kurds into the mountains, where they were destroyed by Turkish infantry. Shaykh Said and 47 others were executed in September 1925.

Shaykh Said KurdsKurdish Warriors

Following the rebellion, all Sufi orders in Turkey were abolished by order of Atatürk, with many of the Kurdish Naqshabandi shaykhs crossing into the Kurdish region of Syria, where their descendants remain active today. The dervish orders were abolished because of their ability to organize clandestine political networks. The authority of the shaykhs allowed them to cross tribal lines in their organizing efforts. Sufi meeting halls which had once been a refuge from police surveillance were permanently shut down after the revolt.

New powers were assumed by the state in the wake of the rebellion, setting back Turkey’s democratic development. Existing restrictions on the expression of Kurdish culture and language were invigorated and expanded. Kurdish identity was denied in favor of ethno/cultural assimilation. Rebellions continued under this regime, including one led by Shaykh Said’s brother, Shaykh Abdurrahman, in 1927.

Gülen Movement

At the heart of the AKP’s Islamic offensive in southeastern Turkey is the enigmatic figure of Fethullah Gülen, whose self-named Islamic movement is generally regarded as an offshoot of Naqshabandi Sufism. Despite being charged with conspiring against the Turkish republic in 1999—and eventually acquitted in 2006—Gülen has used the generous donations of his followers to build an international network of Islamic schools and NGOs. Though he has been a resident of the United States since 1999, Gülen is believed to have close ties to the highest echelons of the ruling AKP, many of whom also have connections to the Naqshabandi Sufis.

Gülen is a follower of the teachings of Kurdish philosopher and religious scholar Said al-Nursi (1876-1960), formerly known as Said al-Kurdi. As a Naqshabandi Sufi in the 1920s he declined to participate in Shaykh Said’s rebellion on the grounds that the Turkish nation had been at the service of Islam for 1,000 years. Although al-Nursi preached Islamic unity regardless of national borders, there have been efforts recently from Kurdish opponents of Gülen to emphasize al-Nursi’s Kurdish identity over Gülen’s alleged “pan-Turkism” (, January 20).

Today Gülenists, some of whom fly in from Istanbul, distribute food to the poor, manage schools and provide much-needed medical services in southeastern Turkey. Since 1994 the Gülen movement has even opened eight schools in Kurdish northern Iraq where their opponents have accused them of spreading “Turkish racist ideology.” The schools are nevertheless very popular with the families of Kurdish bureaucrats and politicians (Turkish Daily News, December 26, 2007). Other Islamic NGOs are active in southeastern Turkey, including Mustazaf-Dar, believed to have ties to the Turkish Hezbollah (Today’s Zaman, December 31, 2007).

Kurdish Islam and the “Deep State”

There also appears to have been interest in Kurdish Islam from a more nefarious source, the Turkish “deep state” apparatus known as Ergenekon, members of which were recently rounded up by Turkish security forces (see Terrorism Monitor, February 7). Ergenekon grew out of NATO’s Operation Gladio, a secret Cold War formation of military and security personnel designed to offer prolonged resistance in the event of being overrun by Soviet forces. In Turkey the Gladio operation survived the Cold War by establishing deep roots in various political, military, security and criminal organizations. At the same time, the group began to assume guardianship of an ideal and rigidly Kemalist Turkish nation.

Following the arrests in late January there were reports that Ergenekon had held talks with the PKK and Dev-Sol (the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front) in Germany and had even started organizing a Kurdish Islamist terrorist group as part of their plan to spread chaos in Turkey prior to a military coup scheduled for 2009 (Yeni Safak, February 2; Istanbul Star, January 28). Another report claimed that the gang had recruited members of the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons—a PKK offshoot—to blow up a bridge near the headquarters of the Turkish air force and navy (Hürriyet, January 29). The fourth stage of Ergenekon’s plan to create conditions designed to enable a military coup is also said to have called for the creation of sham terrorist groups whose activities would spark conflict between Turks and Kurds (Zaman, January 28).

The Turkish Hezbollah

A January 25 report in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet claimed that some of the Ergenekon agents were formerly active members of Turkish Hezbollah. For some years now rumors have circulated in Turkey charging that Turkish Hezbollah was the creation of the Gendarmerie Intelligence Group Command (JITEM), a secret and officially denied agency formerly led by prime Ergenekon suspect, retired Brigadier General Veli Küçük.

The Hezbollah were recently described as “predominantly and passionately Kurdish and can be seen as virtually the linear descendants of the participants in the failed Shaykh Said revolt of 1925…” [1]. While ostensibly seeking the establishment of an Islamic state, the Turkish Hezbollah has actually had more in common with Turkey’s right-wing extremists than with other Islamist movements. Its membership is largely Kurdish but in general the organization has few ties to the community. The movement was engaged for years in a brutal and bloody struggle with the PKK with little interference from authorities. Hezbollah denounces the PKK as anti-Muslim Marxist-Leninists who collaborate with anti-Turkish Armenians.

In January 2000, Turkish police rounded up 2,000 Hezbollah members and killed its leader, Hüseyin Velioglu. After evidence emerged of the movement’s predilection for brutal murders and torture, the group became popularly known as Hizbul Vaset (The Party of Slaughter). Though much diminished in strength, Hezbollah operatives still pose a serious threat to security, particularly through ties to organizations like Ergenekon.


The failure of religious-led revolts—of which the Shaykh Said rebellion was but the largest—caused the later Kurdish nationalists to look for new revolutionary models, eventually finding one in secular Marxism. The PKK turned its back on the example of these early “reactionary” tribal and religious leaders in favor of pursuing an independent socialist state free of the tribalism that constantly foiled all attempts to unify the Kurdish people in a single nation. The PKK has nevertheless had to adjust to the Islamic renewal in their home region, moderating their once-strident Marxism through the founding of the Kurdish Prayer Leaders’ Association. The PKK now professes respect for all Kurdish religious practices, including Shi’ism, Yezidism and Zoroastrianism (Today’s Zaman, December 31, 2007).

The Naqshabandi movement is active once more in southeastern Turkey, with a lodge in the city of Adıyaman and frequent visits from the shaykhs of the Naqshabandi lodges in Kurdish Syria. The Sufi movements still display remarkable organizational skill; in Iraq this has been applied to a military anti-occupation campaign (see Terrorism Focus, January 8; Terrorism Monitor, January 24).

Instead of driving the Kurds away with secularism as they did in the 1920s, the new approach of the AKP now tries to entice the Kurds away from secularism with Islam. If language and ethnicity are insurmountable barriers, then Islam will be the bridge between communities. In combination with a robust military campaign by the Turkish armed forces against PKK bases in northern Iraq, Turkey’s Islamic initiatives in its Kurdish regions are sapping strength from a radical form of secular Kurdish nationalism that appears to be on the defensive and without allies. The problem is whether the military phase of Ankara’s campaign will ultimately prove counterproductive if Turkish Kurds begin to rally around the PKK simply because they are fellow Kurds (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 28). Turkey’s strong secular establishment is also certain to express their opposition to the growing “Islamification” of southeastern Turkey.


1. Emrullah Uslu: “From Local Hizbollah to Global Terror: Militant Islam in Turkey,” Middle East Policy 14(1), Spring 2007

Turkey’s Generals Speak out on Counter-Terrorism Strategies

Andrew McGregor

November 20, 2007

Turkish journalist Fikret Bila has just released an important work based on interviews with a number of retired Turkish military commanders. Komutanlar Cephesi (The Commanders’ Position) examines the generals’ views on Turkey’s past and present security efforts. Excerpts from interviews with five retired generals were first published by the Turkish newspaper Milliyet in the week of November 5-9, and later reprinted in an English translation in the Turkish Daily News, November 12-16. With tensions along the Turkish-Iraqi border at their peak, the generals’ comments provide useful insights on Turkish military policy in the region.

Turkey Generals 1General Hilmi Özkök

With at least two divisions of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) deployed along the Iraqi frontier, cross-border operations were naturally a topic of discussion for the generals. General Doğan Güreş (Chief of General Staff, 1990-1994) emphasized the need for secrecy in mounting successful cross-border operations, especially against the highly mobile PKK. In 1992 Güreş was able to bring 50,000 men up to the Iraqi border in relative secrecy. The efforts of Turkish military engineers in the following campaign allowed the TSK to insert armored units along PKK escape routes in mountainous areas, enabling the Turkish Armed Forces to deal a devastating blow to the Kurdish insurgents, which resulted in the ceasefire of 1993. General Ismail Hakkı Karadayı (Chief of General Staff, 1994-1998) also points out the value of surprise in making cross-border raids of the type made on northern Iraq during his command in 1995-1996. According to Karadayı, only an offensive posture is suitable in dealing with terrorism (Turkish Daily News, November 14).

General Hilmi Özkök (Chief of General Staff, 2002-2006) suggests that large-scale cross-border operations have a political value but cannot be regarded as the solution to the PKK problem. PKK bases lay deep within Iraq and the guerrillas receive support from the local population. Target selection presents another difficulty; Özkök notes that the PKK “do not have war operation centers, officers’ clubs, dormitories or training centers for us to hit and paralyze them” (Turkish Daily News, November 15). A further problem is presented by the rapid growth of communications and international news networks that make it increasingly difficult to mount surprise attacks. PKK leaders can learn of impending offensives simply by turning on the TV. Last Sunday’s TV announcement by Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani that the Turkish army has “definite plans” to launch a limited operation against PKK bases in northern Iraq seemed to punctuate the general’s remarks (Al-Sharqiyah TV, November 17).

The development of asymmetric war techniques has also changed the tactical landscape. General Özkök described the growth of battlefield technology such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as going hand-in-hand with the development of asymmetrical warfare. Large-scale operations are no longer the preferred method for dealing with modern insurgencies, according to Özkök. General Güreş noted the importance of smaller units like the Turkish Special Forces, which are able to fight and operate in the mountains like a “Turkish PKK.”

General Aytaç Yalman (Commander in Chief of the Gendarmerie, 2000-2002; Commander of the Turkish Land Forces, 2002-2004) pointed out that Turkey’s powerful military gave it considerable weight in dealing with neighbors that sympathize with the PKK, like Syria. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was expelled from Syria in 1998 after it became clear that Yalman’s Second Army was prepared to cross into Syria. The Syrians hastened to sign and implement the one-sided Adana Agreement, in which Syria agreed to list the PKK as a terrorist organization and expel its leaders. Though Öcalan was not handed over to Turkey at the time, the loss of government protection and sponsorship led to Öcalan’s flight to several countries and eventual apprehension and deportation from Kenya to Turkey several months later. General Yalman credits U.S. intervention for ensuring Öcalan’s extradition as part of an effort to promote the standing of Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal al-Talabani (Turkish Daily News, November 12). The U.S. goal, according to Yalman, was to eliminate Öcalan as a rival to Barzani and al-Talabani for the leadership of the region’s Kurds, while at the same time making the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders important clients and allies in the struggle against Saddam Hussein.

The Turkish military would also arm the Iraqi Kurds when it was deemed necessary, as in 1992, when Kurdish peshmerga militia attacks on the PKK began to falter. By 1995, however, General Karadayı decided not to involve peshmerga units in a massive raid by 35,000 Turkish troops. Helping Barzani and al-Talabani with arms and diplomatic assistance was a strategic mistake that only contributed to their goal of creating a Kurdish state, says General Özkök, who also acknowledges that the alternative could have been even worse.

General Güreş displayed the military’s suspicions of U.S. intentions towards Turkish territorial integrity through a reference to “maps depicting a divided Turkey” (Turkish Daily News, November 13). Güreş was alluding to a U.S.-produced map of a “new Middle East’ displayed at a NATO military college in 2006. Present Turkish Chief of General Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt received an official apology for the map, which showed a new Kurdish nation incorporating most of southeastern Turkey (Today’s Zaman, September 29, 2006).

General Karadayı also points to international support for Kurdish “separatism” as a complicating factor in the struggle against the PKK (Turkish Daily News, November 14). Because of this, even successful TSK operations against the PKK must be accompanied by political and diplomatic efforts to combat terrorism. Karadayı points to his own success in having British authorities ban a Kurdish television station by asking what the British reaction would be if Turkey allowed the IRA to broadcast from Turkish territory.

Turkey Generals 2General Kenan Evran

The war against Kurdish separatism was carried out with intense severity during the rule of General Kenan Evren. A Korean War veteran, Evren was for many years the commander of “Counter-Guerrilla,” the Turkish branch of NATO’s secret and highly-controversial “stay-behind” army in Europe, known as “Operation Gladio.” In 1980 General Evren led a military coup and later became president of Turkey from 1982 to 1989. The general still regards Turkey’s failure to hang PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan as a major mistake: “If he had been hung after the final verdict was issued, there wouldn’t be any trouble. But of course, a few protests would have taken place on his death anniversary. But he wouldn’t have been able to issue directives from prison.” After his arrest, Öcalan claimed that “it was the ‘Gladio’ arm of NATO, in fact, which imprisoned me” (Statement of Abdullah Öcalan on his abduction from Kenya, November 26, 1999 [1]).

Administrative aspects of Turkish counter-terrorist efforts also received the generals’ attention. In 1983 the Turkish government passed the State of Emergency Law, creating a civil-military structure to deal with national emergencies such as national disasters or insurrection. Before that time the military had generally been given a free hand to deal with crisis situations. The new law also provided for the designation of State of Emergency Regions (OHAL) with civil administrators to replace martial law. General Özkök criticized the use of OHAL, claiming that it was a mistake that had a negative impact on the war on terror and “caused chaos in the chain of authority” (Turkish Daily News, November 15). General Karadayı was also known for having little respect for OHAL structures, often overriding the authority of local governors. Security regimes have recently been re-imposed on the Iraqi border region and some districts of southeastern Turkey.

One aspect that comes through in the interviews is a general acknowledgement that successful counter-terrorism efforts must now have a political, diplomatic and social dimension, in addition to the exercise of military force. General Özkök sees improved educational facilities and economic innovations like micro-credit as the path to reduced tensions in Kurdish southeastern Turkey. With Turkey on a war footing along the Iraqi frontier, the reflections of the retired TSK commanders provide a historical dimension to the debate over how Turkey should deal with the PKK threat.


  1. Öcalan’s statement can be accessed at

This article first appeared in the November 20, 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus.

Tactical and Strategic Problems of a Turkish Winter Campaign in Northern Iraq

Andrew McGregor

October 30, 2007

As Turkish troops mass along the border with Kurdish northern Iraq, chief of the Turkish General Staff General Yasar Buyukanit has promised to make the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) “grieve with an intensity they cannot imagine” (AP, October 27). While an attack on northern Iraq seems imminent, important questions are being raised in Ankara about the effectiveness of a cross-border operation. What meaningful objectives are obtainable? Can the PKK be crushed through unilateral military action? Should the campaign wait until spring? There is political pressure on the Turkish government to do something now, a sentiment reflected in the urgency of Turkish demands for Iraq and the United States to take action against the PKK.

Turkish Winter 1Turkish Cobra Attack Helicopter during Winter Exercises

Large-scale PKK attacks, such as the October 21 ambush in Hakkari province (about four kilometers from the border) that killed 12 Turkish soldiers and involved over 200 Kurdish fighters, clearly seem designed to provoke a Turkish border crossing. The aim may be to cause a rift between Turkey and its allies while involving the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in a difficult and dangerous winter campaign in Iraq’s northern mountains. The PKK has also threatened to cut the oil pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan and even strike oil tankers heading for Turkey (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 21). Following the deadly attack on the 21st, 11 Turkish battalions were moved up to the border to prevent the movement of PKK fighters across it (Today’s Zaman, October 26).

The electoral success last summer of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in former PKK strongholds in southeast Turkey has put pressure on the PKK to try and draw Turkey into a major struggle in northern Iraq with international implications for Ankara. Iraq’s Kurdish Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, claims that the PKK has been infiltrated by Turkish intelligence, and suggests that Ankara is seeking a provocation that will allow it to intervene in northern Iraq to “disrupt the Kurdish regional administration, (and) to cripple the infrastructure” (Newsweek, October 23).

Public demands for immediate military action against the PKK have dominated raucous protests in several Turkish cities. Many of the demonstrations now condemn the United States as well as the PKK. Senior Turkish politicians have also been abused at massive public funerals for “martyred” troops. In response to the attacks, TSK troops and Cobra helicopter gunships have already begun making “hot pursuits” of PKK fighters across the border. Turkish tanks and artillery shell targets in northern Iraq almost daily.

The difficulty for Ankara is that a quick raid on PKK installations in Iraq is likely to have little long-term effect. Turkey has already launched dozens of major raids on northern Iraq without doing anything to end the PKK presence along the border. PKK guerrillas possess little more than what they can carry on their back, and are thus ready to pull out to safer, pre-planned positions at a moment’s notice. Only an extended occupation stands any chance of success, and this will be difficult, if not impossible, without cooperation from Baghdad, Washington and northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Ankara is receiving mixed messages from the United States. Last week the U.S. military commander in northern Iraq, General Benjamin Mixon, declared that U.S. forces were not involved in tracking PKK movements and intended to do “absolutely nothing” to end Kurdish cross-border attacks on Turkey (AP, October 27). On the same day, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that the United States “will do what is necessary” against the PKK while warning Ankara to abandon plans for a major cross-border incursion (Hurriyet, October 27). There are also signals from the Pentagon that the U.S. military may be ready to use Predator reconnaissance aircraft to supply the TSK with the intelligence necessary to make pinpoint Special Forces strikes against PKK targets while avoiding a larger invasion (CBS, October 26).

Turkish air capability is limited. There are few attack helicopters available, and Turkish F-4 and F-16 jet-fighters flying from the Diyarbakir air base are largely ineffective against PKK mountain positions without the specialized munitions used by the United States or the fuel-air explosives Russia used against Chechen hideouts in the Caucasus Mountains. For now though, the Turkish warplanes continue to mount strikes on Kurdish villages and PKK positions inside Iraq while providing air support for search-and-destroy missions within southeast Turkey.

Turkey’s nine U.S.-built Cobra attack helicopters have undergone extensive refits to enable them to carry out night missions against the PKK. In September Turkey signed a deal with an Italian aerospace firm to provide 51 new attack helicopters to add to Turkey’s force of 90 U.S.-made Sikorsky Black Hawk assault helicopters (Today’s Zaman, October 22).

On October 21, the chairman of Turkey’s Grand Unity Party, Muhsin Yaziciolgu, called on the TSK to develop new strategies, such as the formation of “mobile units composed of high-level officers having extraordinary powers and responsible in taking initiatives” (Today’s Zaman, October 22). A brigade of professional commandos is undergoing training at the Isparta commando school in Egirdir, but these are not expected to take the field until 2009. Six existing commando brigades are replacing conscripts with volunteer professionals in a process that is expected to be completed by next spring.

Last week, 3,000 members of the police Special Forces joined Turkish regulars, mountain commandos, Gendarmerie forces and village guards in the fighting against PKK guerrillas (Hurriyet, October 25). Thousands of imams trained in “national unity issues” are also on their way to southeast Turkey to explain the unacceptability of terrorism in Islam.

Snow is already falling in the higher mountain passes. There is a danger that a Turkish winter offensive could get bogged down in difficult and roadless country without the benefit of the Iraqi Kurdish guides that used to accompany Turkish missions against the PKK. As the earth turns to mud under heavy rains and snow, the TSK’s armor will find the going difficult. Winter storms could also mean troops on the ground might lose the benefit of air cover and medical-evacuation services.

There are several options available. The TSK could cooperate with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps forces in a strike against the PKK and Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) strongholds in the Qandil Mountain region 100 kilometers south of the border, probably the most effective option militarily, but the most dangerous politically, and potentially the most embarrassing for the United States. Such a strike would have substantial risks for the TSK, which has never penetrated so far into Iraq. The onset of winter usually marks the end of the PKK’s campaigning season until spring, as the fighters retire to bases well inside the border while only a small number remains behind in southeast Turkey. The TSK will have to penetrate 20 to 30 kilometers deep into Iraq to get to PKK’s winter camps. The alternative would be to create a buffer zone on the Iraqi side of the border and wait until spring for a major offensive (barring the success of diplomatic efforts in the meantime).

Even if Turkey could obtain Baghdad’s cooperation against the PKK, there is little chance the beleaguered Iraqi national army could carry out a successful campaign in the Kurdish mountains. The Kurdish President of Iraq, Jalal al-Talabani, claims that even the Kurdish peshmerga militias could not expel the PKK (Kurdish Aspect, October 21). The effect of a military offensive on the future status of the disputed oil-centre of Kirkuk must also play into the calculations of Turkish planners.

Turkish Winter 2Bottleneck at the Habur Border Gate (Hurriyet)

Economic sanctions and border closures present an alternative to military action until spring. Sanctions could include closing the Habur border gate through which $3 billion in trade now passes annually. A large quantity of American military supplies also pass through the Habur gate, but Ankara is now exploring the possibility of diverting Turkish trade with Iraq through a number of Syrian border crossings, avoiding Kurdish Iraq all together. Other options include a halt in vital Turkish investment, cutting supplies of electricity to northern Iraq, and the evacuation of Turkish contractors responsible for most of the rebuilding and infrastructure creation in northern Iraq. Over 600 Turkish construction firms are currently at work in northern Iraq (Today’s Zaman, October 26). In the presently charged atmosphere, the Turkish business community has expressed wide support for economic measures if necessary. In the event of economic sanctions by Turkey, Iraq’s government may save the PKK the trouble of cutting the pipelines to Ceyhan. Iraqi Speaker of Parliament Mahmud al-Mashhadani warned on October 25 that the Iraqi government would cut the flow of oil to Ceyhan should Ankara apply sanctions.

There is little chance of a large cross-border military operation starting before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington on November 5. As the TSK awaits orders, every day that passes increases the difficulty of mounting a successful operation in northern Iraq.

This article first appeared in the October 30 2007 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus.