13 PKK-abducted Turks killed in Iraq: What really happened
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced on Feb. 14 that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) killed 13 unarmed Turkish citizens, triggering a big pain in the country. Then we learned that the victims were the citizens –soldiers, policemen and intelligence members – who were abducted by the PKK between 2015 and 2017 and held in a cave in a mountainous area in Gara, Iraq.
According to Akar’s statement, the PKK shot one of the citizens in the shoulder and the others in the head, killing all of them, during an operation on them on Feb. 10.
According to the official statement, two army captains and one noncommissioned officer were killed on the first day of the operation as the PKK death toll was announced at 48. The number of PKK militants killed in the operation increased to 53 as early Feb. 15.
We will come to the U.S. condemnation of the killing of 13 unarmed Turkish citizens by remarks “if reports of the death of Turkish civilians at the hands of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, are confirmed.”
However, among the questions that were spread with the sad news that the PKK killed 13 people, was the one about whether President Tayyip Erdoğan would give the good news that the prisoners were rescued if he addressed the nation on Feb. 10.
The answer in statement by the Chief of General Staff
The answer to this question can be found in the press release of Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler on Feb. 14. According to his words published by state-run Anadolu Agency, Güler gave the following information:
“After our activities in Haftanin, Hakurk and other regions, the terrorist organization got very squeezed and they settled in the Gara region with all their weight. While they thought that they were safe and comfortable there, we performed this activity on this land 75 kilometers to 25 kilometers. In addition to these, there is our personnel abducted in the environment before 2015. They tried to hide our abducted citizens in numerous caves. Finally, as a result of the information we received from our intelligence agencies, our own special work and the findings of the reconnaissance elements, we found very good evidence that these could be in the Gara region and we started to work on the issue. By building models of lands and facilities in this area, our relevant units personally worked on the issue very hard.”
Did the operation have two goals?
From these words, it is possible to deduce that the operation, code-named “Pençe Kartal 2” (Claw Eagle 2) had two goals. One is the capture or murder of the PKK senior cadres expected to gather in Gara. The other is the rescue of the prisoners by raiding the PKK cave-prison, which was also found to be in Gara.
According to the information by Akar, the air operation started at 2.55 a.m. on Feb. 10. In addition to 41 fighter jets, early warning aircraft, tanker aircraft departing from Incirlik base for air refueling, UAVs and armed UAVs participated in the air operation. The commando units, which were deployed in the region by helicopters earlier, started the ground operation at 04.55, two hours later. Two captains and a senior sergeant, who were laid to rest after the Feb. 12 funeral ceremony attended by Akar and Güler in Ankara fell victim in the PKK fire. When the commandos entered the caves, they found the bodies of all 13 prisoners. According to official sources, two captured PKK militants said in their testimony that their chief in charge had ordered to kill the prisoners as soon as the air campaign started.
Erdoğan: “We couldn’t succeed”
It comes to the conclusion that PKK members shot 13 prisoners before the land operation in Gara (south of Çukurca, 40 kilometers inside the Iraqi border).
At the press conference, Defense Minister Akar said, “I wish we could get 13 citizens out of there safely. “We tried very hard. But we couldn’t succeed, ” Erdoğan said on Feb 15.
After all, following this bitter news, Erdoğan did not deliver “address to the nation” on Feb. 10. After participating in the Winter-2021 exercise held in Kars with Azerbaijan on Feb. 11, and the funeral ceremony in Ankara on Feb. 12, Akar and Güler went to the operation center in the border region, and Akar, a former chief of staff, personally took over the command.
According to the information obtained from the authorities, the studies for the exact determination of the damage caused by the operation “Kartal Claw 2” on PKK targets continue with the participation of the intelligence units.
The KDP statement with messages
Ankara made contact with the Iraqi government before starting the operation. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu went to Baghdad on Jan. 9, and Akar and Güler on Jan. 18. In this process, the fact that National Intelligence Organization (MİT) President Hakan Fidan also met with his counterparts in Iraq is in line with the normal course of life.
However, a development that took place during the operation that started in Gara on Feb. 10, went unnoticed. This was a written statement made on Feb. 11 by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the ruling party in the regional government in Iraq.
Below is what KDP spokesman Mahmoud Mohammed said after the PKK said Turkey cannot hold an operation in Gara without the permission and cooperation of the KDP:
“The PKK itself is the reason for chaos, disorder and instability into the Kurdistan region through the battle with the Turkish military. What is the KDP’s fault if the PKK does not battle on Turkish soil but rather running away, pulling others behind them?”
The statement leads to a conclusion that the PKK has relied on the KDP in basing on Gara so far.
Conditional condemnation from the US
Since May 2019, the Turkish military has been carrying out the “Claw” series operations against PKK targets in Iraqi territory. These have two goals. One target is to push the PKK away from the touching stones near the Turkish border, which it uses to infiltrate Turkey for terrorist acts. The other goal is to cut the PKK’s supply lines between Qandil and YPG forces in Syria. It seems that these operations will continue.
In this context, it is an important goal to prevent the PKK’s presence on the Sinjar Mountains close to Syria and in the Mahmur Refugee Camp. The KDP is also uneasy with the PKK presence in Sinjar.
On the other hand, Sinjar is strategic for the PKK especially for deployments to the YPG in Syria, which is the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and which is supported by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). (Former CENTCOM commander Lloyd Austin is today the U.S. Secretary of Defense.)
The U.S. defends the YPG, an organization that it uses as a ground force against ISIL in Syria. But it ignores the YPG-PKK link, saying that it supports Turkey’s struggle against the PKK in Iraq. However, the fact that U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price began his condemnation of the murder of 13 abducted Turkish citizens with the condition that “if reports are confirmed that the PKK did it” contradicts this situation.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry reacted to the statement, summoning the top U.S. diplomat in Turkey. “Today, U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield was summoned to our ministry, and our reaction to the statement by the US was voiced in the strongest terms,” said a Turkish ministry statement on Feb. 15.
The US. statement is also a declaration of distrust about Akar’s statement just before the NATO defense ministers meeting on Feb. 17.
Investigation in Ankara
The Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into some social media accounts, alleging that they accused Erdoğan and the government of the PKK’s murder of 13 abducted unarmed people.
As soon as the news was heard, sincere expressions of sorrow and justified questions began to disappear in a spontaneous Bermuda Triangle-like vortex on social media. The PKK, Fethullah Gülenists and so-called “Pelikan trolls,” a group inside the government, are the three corners of this triangle.
CHP İzmir Deputy Murat Bakan announced that he submitted a parliamentary motion of five questions about the condition of the Turkish citizens –including security officials– abducted by the PKK, with the last of them being on Feb 9. The sole answer he got was that the “struggle against terrorism continues.”
Of course, the PKK is guilty of killing the abducted Turkish security officials and killing them. Still, it is a right –especially for the mourning families of the fallen officials and soldiers– to as what happened to our citizens in the hands of the PKK. Within this context, some malicious speculations may also emerge. The way to prevent malicious speculation is to provide timely and reliable information to the public.