As reported by the Washington Post on Sunday, the U.S. government is considering a Turkish request for deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) in Turkey for counterinsurgency operations.
The UAV in question is the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, according to the manufacturer, “the most combat-proven Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in the world.” The Predator can fly up to 7,600 meters high, has an endurance of 40 hours and can be equipped with reconnaissance hardware or weapons like the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile.
The U.S. has flown unarmed Predators from bases in northern Iraq and has shared reconnaissance data about the insurgents of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) with Turkey. Now Turkey sees this asset go away since U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by 31 December. Domestic production of UAVs in Turkey is only about to start, hence the request for stationing Predators on Turkish soil.
The Washington Post also referred to previously undisclosed documents that show that Turkey is highly dependent on U.S. assets to gather information about the moves of the PKK. Data gathered by U-2 reconnaissance planes, UAVs and “other intelligence sources” have been shared with Turkey, to provide assistance in its fight against the Kurdish rebels.
The Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said to U.S. Army General Raymond T. Odierno in 2010, then commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, that, “before your withdrawal, it is our common responsibility to eliminate this threat.” U.S. officials agreed on an “enhanced joint action plan” but tried to keep U.S. involvement limited, concealing details as far as possible.
The PKK has repeatedly attacked military and security installations in Turkey from its bases in northern Iraq, provoking retaliatory operations with air and ground forces. Only five weeks ago Turkey practically invaded northern Iraq during a series of such strikes. Although the PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the U.S. it never has attacked any of its installations anywhere in the world, so the United States are reluctant to get directly involved in the Turkish battle against the Kurds.
The PKK is fighting for an independent Kurdish state in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq since 1984. More than 40,000 people have died since then. Last Monday Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with top military commanders, fueling rumors that Turkey is considering further action in northern Iraq to combat the PKK insurgents.