Amid a mounting controversy over the source of intelligence that led to the killing of 34 civilians on the Turkish-Iraqi border by military jets in December, President Abdullah Gül said on Saturday that there was no cover-up of the incident and that the truth will definitely be brought to light.
A US paper, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last week that the civilian death toll set off alarms at the Pentagon as “it was a US Predator drone that spotted the men and pack animals, officials said, and American officers alerted Turkey.”
On Dec. 28, 2011, Turkish fighter jets bombed smugglers, believed to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists, in the Turkish-Iraqi border area near Uludere, sparking outrage in Turkey. The Turkish military stated that the warplanes had targeted the group based on intelligence that suggested a group of armed terrorists would be heading towards the Turkish border to stage attacks against the military. The military did not reveal the source of this intelligence at the time.
A statement released by the Turkish General Staff later last week denied the WSJ report and said the first intelligence related to the Uludere incident came from Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles.
“There is no cover-up in the Uludere [incident]. The [events leading up to the] incident will definitely be revealed. This is a legal process,” Gül told reporters on board his plane as he was flying to Chicago to attend a NATO summit.
The president's statement came in response to a question asking whether it was acceptable that no light has been cast on the incident even though it took place five months ago.
Gül also affirmed that the statements of the government and the General Staff on the allegations regarding the source of intelligence for the Uludere incident should be trusted.
“There is an intelligence-sharing agreement between the US and Turkey. Turkey monitors the region with the US. It is not surprising for US [drones] to see one part of the incident. We can't say that Turkey owns the same technological devices used by the US. We already know our shortcomings and are trying to eliminate them. When I went to the region, I visited these monitoring centers, too. I witnessed that a person who was suspected of being a terrorist turned out to be a shepherd. There was unfortunately a grave assessment error in the Uludere incident. Our sorrow is great,” said Gül.
The Turkish government and Parliament have been investigating the incident separately, trying to find out how it happened and who is responsible for the deaths of the villagers in Uludere, while public prosecutors have also been conducting their own legal probes into the matter. A report by the General Staff, submitted to the parliamentary Human Rights Commission in April, failed to answer the questions, including why there was a rushed decision to carry out the strike. The report says the air strike took place in accordance with regulations regarding the cross-border operations of the military, but it does not explain why the decision to launch the air strike was made in a hasty manner.
To another question asking whether there was any connection between the news report in the WSJ and Turkey's request to purchase armed drones from the US, Gül said they (he and the government) had prior knowledge that such a news report would be published by the WSJ.
“Our request to purchase predators from the US is a very new issue. It is being debated in Congress. The WSJ also highlights this issue at the end of its article,” noted Gül.