A terrorist attack on a military outpost in southeastern Turkey left eight soldiers dead and raised serious questions about the events leading up to the deaths which authorites have not yet answered
Terrorism experts complain that the soldiers -- mostly in their early 20s -- were sent to serve in the far-east corner of Turkey only after a couple of weeks of military training and forced to encamp at an unsafe outpost. The outpost, located among high and rocky mountains, was once built as part of Turkey's efforts to curb smuggling in the region, but has remained neglected. The government vowed to reinforce outposts in the country's eastern and southeastern regions after bloody terrorist attacks claimed the lives of dozens of soldiers in the past few years, but the reinforcements have not yet been completed. According to terrorism experts, young and inexperienced soldiers are left to their fate at the hands of terrorists in poorly equipped outposts.
“There were plans to reinforce those outposts or move them to safer places, but the work to that end has not been completed. The plans are constantly delayed. Either the terrorist organization sets vehicles used in the construction of new outposts on fire or short-term cease-fires declared by the organization mislead authorities, who then delay the construction of new outposts. The outposts should have already been reinforced or moved to safer locations,” lamented Mithat Işık, a retired colonel.
In the early morning hours on Tuesday, a group of around 200 terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) attacked the Yeşiltaş Military Outpost with rocket launchers and rifles, killing eight soldiers and wounding 16 others. In subsequent clashes, troops killed at least 24 PKK terrorists. The terrorists were believed to have crossed the border from northern Iraq to carry out the attack and then retreated across the border.
The military initiated a large-scale operation in Dağlıca to capture the fleeing terrorists, but has not responded to questions about possible military flaws in the attack. Government officials have remained silent, too.
In the recent past, 155 new outposts have been planned for the Land Forces Command and 228 for the Gendarmerie General Command. The construction of 312 of these was assigned to the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ), a prime ministerial agency that usually builds mass housing projects, schools and sports facilities. In late 2011, TOKİ announced that 78 of these outposts had been completed and delivered to the security forces, while 195 were still under construction. Eighty-three were in the initial phases of project creation.
According to Işık, the roofs of military outposts should be protective against rocket missiles, and the windows of those buildings should be small and bulletproof. An approximately 200-meter area surrounding the outposts should be free of trees so that soldiers serving inside the building are able to see what is going on outside. In addition, the outposts should be equipped with technology that can detect threats using advanced image processing and assessment even in adverse weather conditions.
A similar deadly attack in Dağlıca happened in late 2007, killing 12 soldiers. Several thousand PKK terrorists are believed to be based in mountainous hideouts in northern Iraq, from which they regularly launch attacks on state targets in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast.
Mehmet Yegin, a terrorism and strategy expert with the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), likened military outposts in rural areas of the East and Southeast to “graves” for soldiers serving there. “If it is a must to have military outposts there, then they should be reinforced to ensure the security of soldiers staying inside. If outposts are reinforced, soldiers will feel safer. The [PKK] attacks are carried out with rocket launchers and rifles. The current situation of military outposts makes them a grave for soldiers serving inside the outposts,” stated the expert.
The PKK took up arms in 1984, and around 40,000 people have been killed in clashes between the terrorist group and Turkish security forces to date. The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
In addition, Erhan Başyurt, the editor-in-chief of the Bugün daily, complained that young soldiers are deployed in unsafe military outposts like “targets” for the terrorist PKK. “We [Turkey] continue to make young soldiers targets in unsafe outposts and under inadequate security conditions. We still try to go ahead with the anti-terrorism fight with young soldiers who probably never had an armed fight [with terrorists] before instead of deploying professional military staff in terror-stricken places,” he said.
The Turkish Armed Forces' (TSK) efforts to set up specialized forces to be used in anti-terrorism combat are still under way. In 2002, the number of specialized military staff amounted to 20 percent of the TSK, while this percentage is about 40 percent today. Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel recently unveiled new figures about the use of specially trained personnel in the military, saying five Land Forces Command units and one Ranger Brigade of the Gendarmerie Command were made up of completely specially trained army personnel. However, a large number of military staff serving in border areas are inexperienced young soldiers who did not receive adequate counterterrorism training. Turkey's increasing number of soldiers killed in PKK attacks is mainly attributed to the delay in assigning professional military officers to border areas.
There were also rumors circulating in several Turkish newspapers that the General Staff had intelligence about the plans of the terrorist PKK prior to the attack on the Yeşiltaş outpost in Dağlıca. According to the rumors, intelligence sources warned the General Staff around two weeks before the attack that the terrorist group might be planning to stage an attack in southeastern Turkey. In addition, soldiers at the Yeşiltaş outpost informed their superiors around five hours before the deadly attack that there was “mobility” in the region, referring to suspected preparations of the PKK for an attack. Military authorities have not offered a response to the rumors.
More details about the attack
Details of the deadly Dağlıca attack continue to emerge, with several newspapers in Turkey claiming that the order for the attack came from Fehman Hüseyin -- a senior PKK leader who uses the codename Bahoz Erdal -- and one of his right-hand men, Reşit Dostum. The attack was carried out by a group of around 200 terrorists who reportedly infiltrated Turkey from northern Iraq.
According to news reports, the terrorists were able to enter Turkey easily because Heron unmanned aerial vehicles were not patrolling the area at the time. One newspaper quoted an anonymous military official as saying that no aerial military operation was launched against the terrorist organization in the area after the Uludere tragedy, in which 34 civilians were killed in a military attack on the Turkish-Iraqi border last December. “Aerial operations in the area were suspended after Uludere. They [PKK terrorists] are circulating freely in the area,” the official reportedly said.
According to the reports, PKK terrorists brought rocket launchers and rifles to be used in the bloody attack into Turkey several days before the assault. They used mules to carry the artillery. In simultaneous attacks, the terrorists opened fire on three other military locations in Dağlıca to distract security forces in the region and delay the transfer of more military staff to assist soldiers at the Yeşiltaş outpost. Some of the soldiers serving at the outposts were reportedly sent to the area temporarily, and the families of some of them were not informed about the situation.