NORTH KURDISTAN (TURKEY) : Turkey’s Transforming Counter-Terrorism Strategy

Hasan Selim Ozertem  – Daily Star / Journal of Turkish Weekly –   27 November 2012

Two brigades from the Special Forces Command, known popularly as the “Maroon Berets”  and composed of crack troops  from the Turkish Armed Forces, have started operations on Turkey’s border with Iraq that have become one of the most important events currently happening in Turkey.

The Special Forces personnel are structured as an army corps and referred to popularly as the Maroon Berets. The fact that they are carrying out a cross-border operation indicates that a new era is getting under way in the struggle against terrorism in Turkey. The decision to restructure the Maroon Berets in order to deploy them in the fight against terror began with a restructuring in September, which was reported in the press. In line with this development, reports started to appear in the media from November 7 onward that the Maroon Berets were being deployed in an operation following activity along the border during the previous week.

With regard to  their surgical strike, it can be said that these soldiers receive highly sophisticated training for their operations and their basic duty is to organize behind enemy lines and organize actions there. But when surgical strikes are mentioned, it would be wrong to suggest that the Maroon Berets  (who are directly attached to the Chief of General Staff) are being put into the field just on the basis of a single policy. Turkey has recently taken the initiative in using its own resources in this area and developing their capacity. So it would be more correct to view the situation as one prong of Turkey’s strategy in the fight against terrorism.

Commander in the field

The present Turkish Chief of General Staff, General Necdet Özel, is a commander who stresses the idea of “on the spot handling” by travelling repeatedly to the field of action in the fight against terrorism rather than directing it from headquarters. This performs two important missions: It  both enables the commander to observe regional conditions directly and the visits also boost the morale of soldiers on the front line. At the same time, we know that the new commanders appointed in August this year are men who have experience serving in places where the fight against terrorism has been fiercest and who are well trained in this area. The Turkish Armed Forces has long been trying to achieve dominance through the use of static forces. The operation launched on November 7 shows that they have now moved to surgical strikes which support this process by using land units.

In an unfortunate manner, the formation of a process similar to that at Uludere in which 35 civilians tragically lost their lives had again been witnessed during an air operation last year . Heavy pressure had been placed on the PKK through operations carried out by the air force against terrorists, with the air force depending on instantaneous intelligence. But after Uludere there was a relative slowdown in the steps being taken in this regard, and a stage began in which there was an attempt in one way to get over the trauma they  had experienced.

Today, we have arrived at a point where there are signals that alongside air operations there will also be various ground operations. Winter is now beginning and the terrorist organization and its senior members will begin moving down from highland areas and into the towns, and so be more mobile. Consequently, real-time information will also be sped up.

For the struggle against terrorism to be successful, it is also critically important that necessary steps are taken, and the appraisal made, before the real-time intelligence loses its value. So it is important that intelligence data, whether obtained from our allies or from Turkish sources, is rapidly assessed and the necessary steps are taken without delay. Otherwise the data will grow old and lose its value and will not play the effective role that it ought to in the struggle.

Developing capacity

Another important aspect of the policies in force recently has been the development of technological resources and capacity along with the taking of preventive measures. Here important steps undertaken include the Göktürk-2 satellite due to be launched into space, the smart missiles developed by TÜBITAK, and the ANKA project for unmanned aerial vehicles. The development of Turkey’s resources and capacity and the adoption of more effective measures directed at assessing real-time intelligence are further strengthening Turkey’s capacity. At the same time, the restructuring of strategy used in the struggle against terrorism is to be transformed into field superiority for the security forces. Until now Turkey has tried to carry out field defense with gendarme posts in sensitive areas, but it will now gain superiority in taking initiatives by carrying out surgical strikes in addition to this, thus determining the location and timing of clashes.

As long as operations continue, preventive measurements go in parallel. Various new decisions have been implemented in the wake of the killing of nine Turkish soldiers on the highway between Bingöl and Muş on September 19. There has been a decision to redeploy aircraft used by the Turkish Armed Forces as supply planes more effectively by carrying military personnel and through a protocol agreement with Turkish Airlines enabling soldiers to be transported.  Both may be considered important advances. In the near future, the planned purchase of Chinook helicopters from the United States will also close important gaps in this area.

T he measures taken demonstrate that a more inclusive approach is taking shape with regard to the armed struggle against terrorism. But, bearing in mind the volatile nature of security matters, it may be stated that in the long term there will also be attempts by the terrorists to take counter measures and to find new gaps. So as far as the political dimension of the problem goes, it has to be well managed and a careful assessment made of the political dimensions of the problem exposed by the armed struggle. In other words, security policies can be said to play an instrumental role in support of any political moves made.

Disruptions which occur in armed measures against terrorism create a base which could allow the terrorists to set the agenda for the struggle against it. If there is political will behind the long-term plan in carrying out the struggle and it is handled as a long-term project which has been strategically conceived, these facts should be decisive in enabling it to succeed.

*The Turkish version of this analysis was published at Star Daily on November 25, 2012. Translated by David Barchard.