|The attack, which came hours after five police officers and four civilians were killed in another terror attack in Bitlis, has shocked Turkey. It resulted in the deaths of 24 soldiers and police officers. It isn’t clear how Turkish security forces could be unprepared for such an attack at a time when the military is conducting operations against PKK bases in the region. In addition to apparent flaws in intelligence, or failing to act on intelligence, there seem to be serious security weaknesses as the PKK recently stepped up attacks on both military and civilian targets and all units have been on alert for a while. These and other questions beg answers in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Security expert Lale Kemal told Today’s Zaman that even if those who are responsible for negligence or other security weaknesses were found and punished, this alone would not be enough to avoid a repetition of similar attacks in the future. “There is no meaning in punishments unless the top dogs are punished. There are many issues that need to be addressed, but a strong political will is absent. Mine-resistant vehicles were added to the inventory of the military just a few months ago. There are flaws in intelligence. The military fighting terrorism domestically was wrong,” she said.
The government, after an attack in Silvan on July 14, announced plans to transfer anti-terror operations to the police force, but for many, the change in plan came much too late.
Former gendarmerie special operations officer İrfan Çalışkan said: “The method used in fighting terror over the past 26 years has been the same. There is some intelligence, and then there are operations in line with that intelligence, and then all go back to the barracks. This should be changed, and there should be special units that will be in the field and in pursuit at all times.”
The concerns about the lack of a professional army and infrastructure are in line with similar points made by military officials. In August, a voice recording featuring statements made by former Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner regarding the shortcomings and negligence of the military in the fight against terrorism was made public. Koşaner, explaining the reasons behind Turkey’s failure in the fight against terrorism in the secretly recorded clip, spoke about many problems including shortcomings in cooperation between different units and the troops’ unfamiliarity with the terrain where they are expected to fight.
Mithat Işık, a retired colonel, expressed a similar sentiment in comments on Wednesday’s attack. “It is not true that our troops aren’t trained properly. They should be shown the territory to see the terrain, though. Turkey can’t make use of its terrorism experts. Lessons should be learned from the ambushes and attacks,” he said.
Koşaner’s complaints were echoed in confessions by Lt. Col. Onur Dirik made earlier this week. Dirik, who was the commander of a battalion that lost 12 soldiers in Dağlıca, Hakkari province, in an attack on an outpost in 2007, claimed that a planned operation to counter the terrorist activity was given a no-go hours before the attack by his commanders. Dirik, who is being blamed for failing to prevent the attack although he has not yet been convicted in relation to the attack, said he was turned into a scapegoat by his commanders, who were guilty of dismissing crucial intelligence prior to the Dağlıca attack.
However, concentrating on security flaws alone without paying attention to the root causes of the problem, according to retired military judge Ümit Kardaş, is the main reason why Turkey finds itself in a vicious cycle of violence. “We can’t minimize violence as it has been going on for 30 years. We also have been staging operations. There can be negligence, security weaknesses, problems in intelligence, but this will not solve the problem. Why can’t the government solve the problem?” Kardaş said politicians should do more to solve the problem. “Focusing on security alone doesn’t solve the problem, there is a bigger message in it. This can’t be done through security measures only, even if you have a professional army.”
Mehmet Yegin, a terrorism and strategy expert with the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said: “Honestly, this is not the right time to talk about flaws or weaknesses. The PKK and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in particular should be put in the spotlight here. The PKK has been squeezed badly in the past few months, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay recently made a statement indicating that the group is dissolving.” Yegin said the PKK, panicked and losing control, not wanting to lay down arms but at the same time aware that more attacks will not get it anywhere, is frantically escalating violence. “It also weakens support for the PKK in the region. As long as Turkey acts on a rational plan, without emotion and with composure, the loser will be the PKK,” Yegin said.
Mazhar Bağlı, a sociologist from Diyarbakır Dicle University and a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), agreed. “The most important thing is to stay calm and continue fighting terrorism without panicking, which is what the PKK is aiming for,” he said.
Timing of the attack
Bağlı also noted that the attack came one day before a parliamentary commission to discuss a new constitution for Turkey convened for the first time. He said the timing of the attack clearly indicated that the PKK is working together with elements that want to undermine work on the new constitution.
Alpay Yıldız, a retired captain, believes the PKK’s target was Turkey’s new constitution. “The attack was staged to block the ongoing work on the new constitution,” he said. However, others, such as Mustafa Hacımustafaoğulları, a retired major, assert that Wednesday’s attack was staged in retaliation for a major Turkish armed forces operation last week that destroyed the PKK’s Kavaklı base in Hakkari, seen as a stronghold for the group.
The attack also comes a few days after President Abdullah Gül visited troops serving near the border in Hakkari. It also coincides with the second anniversary of a group of PKK militants surrendering to Turkey, as part of a deal with the government. However, their arrival turned into a show of power for the PKK, which stalled a government initiative to facilitate a cease-fire. The returnees were recently sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for crimes of terrorism.
Security expert Süleyman Özener said the PKK was attempting to create the perception that the Turkish state has no power in the region. “They have lost so much with the operations against the Kurdistan Communities’ Union [KCK],” Özener said, referring to a large-scale operation against the KCK, an umbrella organization that controls the PKK and related groups, which Turkish prosecutors say is attempting to form an alternative state with its own executive, legislative and legal systems. Many BDP mayors have also been arrested. Özener said the PKK was putting pressure on the people of the region as well. “They are trying to take back what they have lost in the urban centers by staging attacks in rural parts,” he said.