The March 5 incident that resulted in martyrdom of gendarmerie Sgt. Musa Somay close to the Iraqi border near the village of Ortasu in Sirnak province has set off alarm bells for those concerned with keeping the solution process intact.
First reports said the Turkish soldier was killed when he stepped on a mine, but military sources have provided some crucial information.
The military unit at Sirnak received a tip that a smuggler caravan was about to move on a specified route. The gendarmerie special operations battalion responded by dispatching a team. As this team reached the location 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) south of Ortasu to intercept the smugglers, a major explosion went off. It turned out to be a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) triggered from the other side of the border. Somay died on the spot.
According to the military officers. this was a planned operation, verified also by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) radio chatter. They were heard saying, “Excellent targeting … good timing,” indicating that the explosion was set off by remote control.
The explosion did not happen while the gendarmerie team was near the smugglers, but while it was moving to cut off the smuggler’s route.
The PKK knew about the smugglers. Military officers said the smugglers had received their contraband from the PKK, which in turn tipped off the military, knowing it would send out a detachment to deal with it. The PKK used the smugglers as bait.
The attack was not only an IED attack. Intensive fire was directed at the gendarmerie detachment from the other side of the border. Turkish soldiers, after recovering from the shock of the explosion, returned similarly heavy fire. The PKK militants left the Kurasin area after a half-hour clash. While the exchange of fire was going on, another IED was set off destroying vehicles.
What happened to cross-border operations authorization?
One of the critical questions is why the PKK attackers were not pursued. Military sources refer to a Council of Ministers decision of April 2013. According to their understanding, the authority of military units to cross the border was annulled by that decision. But we know that the authority for cross-border operations was renewed in October 2013.
No doubt the reluctance to cross the border was related to the solution process with the Kurds. The military still has the option of hot pursuit, but sources said hot pursuit has certain rules, too. Accordingly, the terror group has to cross the border into Turkey to clash. Then soldiers can begin a hot pursuit, even crossing the border.
Fully planned attack
In this attack near Ortasu, our soldiers came under direct fire from across the border. This requires an operation across the border. But in recent months the Turkish military has only been conducting “air reconnaissance” operations to collect intelligence.
The other critical aspect of the attack is its possible effects on the solution process that Ankara can hardly keep moving.
Military sources, however, are drawing attention to some escalatory incidents of late, such as destruction of a military bulldozer and wounding of another sergeant. Sources also emphasize the incidents related to the construction of a road in the region. Both the PKK and residents of the nearby town of Uludere have been objecting to the construction of this road that would link eight hills. The existing road is too far away from the border and the new road will allow the military to intervene quickly, hence the increasing harassment of the Turkish military in the area.
Military sources are annoyed by labeling of these incidents as “harassment.” They say in all these incidents they were deliberately targeted and attacked.
Military sources describe the latest attack that killed Somay as the first “fully planned operation since the days the solution process was initiated," and interpret it is as a move by the PKK to sabotage the process.
Their aim is to exploit the election environment and other developments that have distracted Ankara, to consolidate the PKK strength and presence in the region.
This is an important warning for Turkey, which has been happily saying, “We have had no reports of martyrs since the solution process started.”