MESOPOTAMIA NEWS ANALYSIS :  Did Turkey fire a ballistic missile at PKK? If so, it marks a worrying trend

By Paul Iddon 20 hours ago – RUDAW NEWS – 2 June 2019

Turkey reportedly fired a ballistic missile at a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) target in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq this week. If the reports prove correct, it would be a first in the long-running conflict and another worrying example of the Region’s neighbours using it as a testing ground for ever deadlier weapons.

State-run Turkish news outlets report the Turkish military fired its Bora-1 ballistic missile in combat conditions for the very first time against a suspected PKK target.

They claim Turkey launched the missile from its southeastern Hakkari province at a target in Hakurk, inside the Kurdistan Region near its borders with both Iran and Turkey.

“Terrorist targets in Qandil, Asos and other locations were hit by domestically-produced land fire-support weapons for the first time,” said Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on May 29, appearing to confirm the missile’s combat debut.

Turkey has tended to use artillery in such cross-border operations in the past.

The Bora-1 is a domestically-made tactical Turkish short-range ballistic missile. It can deliver a 470kg warhead to a target up to 280km away.

According to its manufacturer, Roketsan, it is accurate to within 50 meters of its target. It is the first and only ballistic missile in Turkey’s arsenal.

In recent days, the Turkish military has hit suspected PKK targets in the Region with air and artillery strikes, as well as commando raids in the Hakurk area.

Ankara’s ongoing Operation Claw is shaping up to be its most significant against the PKK in the Kurdistan Region in at least a year.

Last summer, Ankara also launched a ground incursion, capturing several villages inside the Region and vowing to expel the PKK from its Qandil Mountain stronghold once and for all.

Such operations against the PKK are nothing new. Turkey routinely launches airstrikes against Qandil and has carried out a series of ground incursions against the group since the 1990s.

However, Turkey’s reported use of the Bora-1 missiles could be just the latest example in a disturbing trend in which the Kurdistan Region’s neighbours use their respective campaigns against enemy groups inside the Region as an opportunity to test new and ever more lethal weapon systems in combat beyond their own frontiers.

After all, Turkey could have hit the target just as easily (and more affordably) with a regular airstrike.

The alleged missile strike come just nine months after Iran launched six long-range Fateh-110 ballistic missiles at a headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) in Koya on September 8 during a meeting of its leadership.

The building was picked out by an Iranian drone flying overhead. At least 18 people died in the missile strike and scores more were wounded.

The Koya attack was not the first time Iran has used its domestically-manufactured ballistic missiles against adversaries in the wider region. It was, however, the first and only time Iran has used ballistic missiles against a target inside the Kurdistan Region.

Judging by the way it was executed, Tehran also seems to have taken the opportunity to verify its ability to accurately strike its adversaries from a significant distance.

The Koya attack followed another unprecedented attack just one month earlier.

In August 2018, Turkey proved without a doubt its ability to carry out an airborne assassination when a guided missile, fired by either a drone or an F-16, killed Zaki Shingali, a senior PKK figure, after it tracked and targeted his convoy in the Shingal region.

This was the first time Turkey managed to successfully assassinate a PKK leader in this manner beyond its own borders.

“Before this operation, no other country in the region except Israel had the means to carry out targeted killings beyond its own borders,” noted Turkish military analyst Metin Gurcan at the time.

By upping the ante in this way, Gurcan argued, Turkey could have invited the PKK to utilize similar game-changing techniques, possibly through devising armed drones of its own or reverting again to using lethal vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) against Turkish Army positions in response to such attacks.

“New weapons and techniques used by the state on the front lines are bound to give rise to new maneuvers and tactical evolutions by its non-state adversaries – as well as a reversion to old tactics,” he warned.

“The action-reaction cycle could take an unexpected route that’s not intended or wanted by either side of the conflict.”

Both the Shingali assassination and the Koya strike were precise, unprecedented, and aimed at taking out leadership elements of Ankara and Tehran’s Kurdish opponents inside the Kurdistan Region.

Using such weapons runs the risk of creating unintended consequences, as Gurcan outlined, as well as the dire risk of killing civilians.

Although Tehran’s Koya strike, carried out in an urban centre, successfully hit its intended target, two other Iranian missile strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria were not such resounding success stories.

In its June 2017 strike, its missiles reportedly crashed in Iraq, hundreds of miles from their targets and in the wrong country.

In its October 1, 2018 strike, two of Iran’s Qiam-1 missiles malfunctioned seconds after launch and crashed in a village in Iran. It was only due to sheer luck that no civilians were killed in that incident.

Turkey’s alleged use of Bora-1 missiles could have similarly gone wrong, given they have only been fired on the testing range before, a controlled environment that can never fully replicate conditions of actual combat.

And as mentioned above, Ankara’s ability to hit those same targets with fighter jets underscores how unnecessary and arguably reckless this alleged missile strike was.

In January, angry Kurdish civilians in Sheladize, Duhok province attacked a Turkish military outpost following the killing of six Kurdish civilians in an airstrike that month. That unprecedented action demonstrated just how fed-up local Kurds are of being terrorized by the Turkish-PKK conflict on their own doorstep.

It also showed how civilian casualties can have consequences for Ankara’s position in the Region.

Furthermore, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has consistently addressed the concerns of both Ankara and Tehran. It openly opposes the PKK using its presence in the Region and has on numerous occasions called on the group to leave to prevent turning the Kurdistan Region into another battlefield in the decades-old Turkish-PKK conflict.

The KRG has taken the same stance regarding the Iranian Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) presence in the Region over the years. Then-president Masoud Barzani visited Tehran in October 2011 to emphasize the importance of maintaining safe borders between the two neighbours.

Ultimately, both Turkey and Iran may risk unnecessarily escalating their conflicts with their Kurdish adversaries inside the autonomous region, which could fatally backfire down the road.