The official commemorative ceremony for the soldiers began early on Tuesday at the 4th Army Corps Command in Ankara. President Abdullah Gül; Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who cancelled his trip to Germany after receiving news of the crash; Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu; main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu; and Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel as well as top military officers attended the ceremony. The families of the soldiers were also present at the ceremony.
The plane carrying the bodies of the soldiers, among whom were nine officers, two non-commissioned officers and one specialized sergeant, landed at Ankara's Etimesgut Military Airport around 12:30 a.m. on Sunday. The bodies were then taken to the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK). Five of the soldiers were buried at the Cebeci Military Cemetery in Ankara after a funeral service at Ankara's Kocatepe Mosque.
Turkey paid its final respects on Tuesday to 12 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Kabul last week. President Gül comforts the daughter of one of the soldiers at the funeral.
President Gül and other top state officials were present at the funeral prayer, led by Religious Affairs Directorate President Mehmet Görmez, for the five soldiers. He said the Turkish soldiers killed in the tragic helicopter crash “had no aim other than bringing peace to the Afghan people and helping them.”
High-level state officials conveyed their condolences to the families of the soldiers during the funeral and shared in their grief. The bodies of the other seven soldiers were sent to their hometowns for burial from the Etimesgut Military Airport.
Tears, prayers and grief dominated both ceremonies on Tuesday morning and the funeral services at Kocatepe Mosque. Many among the large crowd of people who attended the official state ceremony at the 4th Army Corps Command could not hold back tears as the soldiers' children ran to the coffins to bid their fathers farewell.
A Turkish military helicopter crashed into a home near the Afghan capital on Friday, killing 12 Turkish soldiers on board and four Afghan civilians on the ground. It was by far the deadliest incident involving Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan, where they play a noncombatant role.
The helicopter, a Sikorsky, was on a mission for US-led NATO forces when it went down near Kabul, the Turkish military said in a statement. Iran, the US and Afghanistan have extended their condolences to Turkey over the incident.
The names of the soldiers killed in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Friday are as follows: Maj. Mithat Çolak, Maj. Şükrü Bağdatlı, Maj. Serkan Doğan, Maj. İsmail Cem Yakınlar, Cpt. Adil Erdoğan, Commanding Sgt. Maj. Salih Helvacı, Commanding Sgt. Maj. Mehmet Akbaş, Spc. Sgt. Önay Vurucu, Cpt. İlker Aydın, 1st Lt. Murat Yıldız, 1st Lt. Tahsin Barutçu and 1st Lt. Okan Melikoğlu.
Unlike other NATO countries, public opinion in Turkey has been less critical about having troops in Afghanistan, given their noncombatant role. Nor is there as much resentment among Afghans over the Turkish presence as the majority of the Turkish soldiers are Muslims and there are historical links between the two countries. However, Turkish opposition leaders have begun questioning Turkey's presence in Afghanistan following Friday's incident.
Turkey, the Muslim nation with the highest number of troops and civilian workers in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has some 1,650 troops in the country. It ranks eighth in providing the most troops to ISAF. ISAF was established by the United Nations Security Council on Dec. 20, 2001.