While terrorism experts say safer outposts will help in the country’s fight against acts of terrorism, they feel that stronger intelligence is needed to protect our soldiers more so than new outposts.
Six soldiers and two village guards were killed when the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacked four military outposts in Hakkari’s Çukurca district on the night of Aug. 5. The Geçimli outpost, one of four outposts where soldiers and village guards were killed, shared more or less the same fate as other outposts that have seen heavy losses in the past, such as those in Dağlıca, Aktütün, Hantepe, Yeşiltaş, Üzümlü, Uludere and Taşdelen. They were located among high, rocky mountains and were once built as part of Turkey’s efforts to curb smuggling in the region. They hosted soldiers -- mostly in their early 20s -- who had been sent to the area as part of their compulsory military service.
The outposts should have been reinforced or rebuilt in accordance with the requirements of the fight against terrorism, but they mostly remained neglected. And as a result, eight more individuals have been added to Turkey’s already very heavy score of martyrs in the anti-terrorism fight.
Professor İhsan Bal, a security expert for the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), believes Turkey should immediately change its methods in the fight against terrorism as terror has changed in form and dimension over the years. “Security measures are adopted in line with the results of risk analyses. I mean, military outposts are not constructed to protect themselves; they are constructed to protect citizens. Our outposts were built against smugglers, but security risks are now very different than they were in the past. We should change these measures as well,” he said. According to Bal, reinforcing military outposts would be a good step to ensure the safety of soldiers stationed inside, but the collection of stronger intelligence regarding terrorists and their actions would be wiser for the security of those soldiers. The government vowed to reinforce outposts in the country’s eastern and southeastern regions after several bloody terrorist attacks were committed in the past few years, but the reinforcements have not yet been completed. Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar announced recently that his ministry had completed the construction of 98 new outposts. He also said the ministry would continue to construct more new military outposts along Turkey’s eastern and southeastern borders.
Erhan Başyurt, editor-in-chief of the Bugün daily, is also of the opinion that safer outposts are a must for the security of soldiers but that this alone is not adequate for the protection soldiers. He thinks both soldiers and civilians would be safer if Turkey had a stronger network of intelligence against terrorism. “It is not possible to say that people would not have been killed if the military outposts the government plans to reinforce had already been reinforced. The Yeşiltaş outpost where eight people were killed [last week in the PKK attack] was not among the military outposts set to be reinforced. In other words, flaws in the fight against terror are not only related to unsafe and poorly equipped outposts,” Başyurt said. He complained that Turkey’s intelligence officers were unable to learn about the terrorists in Çukurca before they managed to move in close to the outposts with heavy weapons. “How did the terrorists manage to infiltrate Turkey with heavy weapons and ammunition? How did Turkey [the authorities] not receive intelligence about the infiltration?” he asked.
The terrorist attack on the Çukurca outposts came amid ongoing and heated clashes in the Şemdinli district. The Turkish military launched a large-scale operation in the district roughly two weeks ago when PKK terrorists blocked the road of a village in the region and interrogated villagers.
Security sources say more than 100 terrorists have been killed there since the operation began. Journalists and other non-residents have been barred from entering Şemdinli for security reasons. The military has destroyed depots of food, munitions and medicine belonging to the PKK in the area. In addition, Turkish fighter jets have shelled targets of the terrorist organization in the Hakurk and Avashin-Basyan regions of northern Iraq.
All Civil Contractors Federation (TMF) head Tahir Tellioğlu said member companies of his federation are ready to lend support to the government in its efforts to reinforce military outposts in eastern and southeastern Turkey. “All outposts there should be reinforced. I know about the conditions of those regions. Border security cannot be ensured with poorly equipped outposts. We are ready to do anything to help the government [reinforce outposts],” he added.
Associate Professor Gökhan Bacık, an instructor at Zirve University in Gaziantep, agrees that the main reason for the loss of life in Turkey’s fight against the terrorist PKK is flaws in intelligence gathering regarding the terrorists. He also believes Turkey will not manage to do away with terrorism unless it entrusts the fight against terrorists to specialized security forces. “Turkey is not successful enough in its anti-terror operations despite the pledges [it has made]. There were earlier pledges that sacks of sand would be used in front of military outposts as shelter against terrorist attacks [and that outposts would be reinforced], but these promises have not been kept. There were also pledges that conscripted soldiers would not be used in anti-terror operations. But it was conscripted soldiers who were killed in the latest attack,” he complained.
The Turkish military is often criticized for deploying young, inexperienced soldiers at border areas to fight terrorism after only a couple of weeks of military training.
* Minhac Celik, Ayten Çiftçi and Erhan Çaçan in İstanbul also contributed to this report.