How timely the WSJ story is! by Aydoğan Vatandaş*

May 21, 2012, Monday/ 17:24:00

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about the Uludere incident, in which the Turkish Air Forces mistakenly killed 34 Kurdish civilians on Dec. 21, 2011, has raised new questions about the sources of the intelligence used for the military strike.

The questions about how the Turkish military got this sensitive intelligence and who made the decision to strike the convoy near the Turkish border have remained a big question in Turkey.

Mehmet Baransu, a well-known Turkish reporter from the Taraf daily, initially claimed that the intelligence was provided by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

But both MİT and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denied the allegation.

After the incident, Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz announced that the intelligence had been obtained from some national sources, but did not specify what these national sources were.

The recent article by the WSJ claimed that it was actually US Predator drones that gave this sensitive intelligence to Turkish officials. According to the WSJ story, it wasn’t an American decision to bomb the convoy but a decision made by Turkish officials. Following the publication of the WSJ story, almost the entire Turkish media reported that the intelligence leading to the killing of civilians -- believed to be PKK terrorists -- was obtained through US sources.

But the main message of the WSJ story was quite different. The WSJ story intended to raise this question for the White House and Congress: How far should American policy-makers entrust Turkey with their drone technology?

It is definitely not a secret that there has been ongoing cooperation between the US and Turkish governments on intelligence-gathering against terrorist groups in the region. The Obama administration also considered a request from Turkey to base Predators -- unmanned aerial vehicles -- on its territory in September 2011. Actually, Turkey has pressed Washington many times to escalate their cooperation in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) before US forces leave Iraq. To base the Predators in Turkey was simply the result of Turkish insistence.

But for Turkey it wasn’t enough. Turkey has sought for years to purchase the Predators to fight against the PKK. The Obama administration and the Pentagon actually supported Turkey’s desire to purchase the Predators.

But was it easy to convince the Congress? No, it was not! Many in the US Congress expressed reservations about Turkey after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010. Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel was in Washington last week to discuss several issues with his counterpart. But the main topic was definitely the purchase of Predators, which are essential for the Turkish military in its fight against the PKK.

So the WSJ story was very timely.

The sources of the WSJ reporter are just some whistleblowers in the Pentagon. Are they real? We have no idea. But the Pentagon’s spokesperson, Mr. George Little, doesn’t support the allegations in the WSJ story. The only thing he says is that “the United States strongly values its enduring military relationship with Turkey.”

This is the message from the US government to Turkey.

But what the WSJ story wants to do is to actually alarm Congress so that it does not approve the sale of Predators to Turkey.

We shall all see together whether the intentions of the WSJ will work or not.

*Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative reporter based in New York.

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