The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Wednesday 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 then did not reveal the source of this intelligence.
A statement released by the Turkish General Staff denied the WSJ report and said the first intelligence related to the Uludere incident was taken by Turkish Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
The statement added that the detailed information was sent to relevant bodies investigating the incident.
Citing an internal assessment by the US Department of Defense, the paper said that “the US drone flew away after reporting the caravan's movements, leaving the Turkish military to decide whether to attack.” It quoted a Pentagon official who said, "The Turks made the call. It wasn't an American decision." The WSJ noted that the incident sparked debate within the US administration and Congress. “It raises an outstanding question for the White House and Congress: How far do we entrust allies with our deadly drone technology?” the article stated.
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 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 shed light on 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 hastily.
In 2007, the Turkish government signed an agreement with the US to share actionable intelligence regarding the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), opening a new chapter for Turkish security forces who could then monitor PKK activities from US intelligence sources, including aerial images from US drones and satellite intelligence. This cooperation was later boosted during under the Obama presidency, which supported Turkey's request to acquire Predator drones despite resistance from Congress.
In Washington, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little declined to comment on the report and the Uludere incident when asked by reporters.
"I won't comment on intelligence-sharing with our Turkish allies, but what I can say is that we have an enduring relationship with Turkey," Little said as quoted by CNN.
"The importance of counter-PKK efforts is critical, as the [S]ecretary [of Defense Leon Panetta] indicated in his trip to Turkey, and we will continue to work with Turkey on counter-PKK efforts and on other challenges," he added.
Asked how the report could damage relations between the two countries, Little said the US has enduring, healthy and strong alliance with Turkey, which is an important part of NATO. According to Little, the US has significant bilateral security relations and that his country will closely continue working on a series of important matters. He downplayed the report and said he doesn’t think that a “newspaper report” is capable of damaging “very strong” relations between Turkey and the US.