BRIEFS

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 30

“NO MIRACLES IN THE WAR ON TERROR”: TURKISH CHIEF OF STAFF COMMENTS ON CONFLICT WITH THE PKK

In a live speech carried by Turkish media on September 21, Turkish Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug maintained that the Turkish Armed Forces (Turk Silahli Kuvvetleri – TSK) is seeking to end the bloodshed between Turks and the ethnic Kurds of southeast Turkey, blaming the continuing conflict on “the separatist terrorist organization” (i.e. the Kurdistan Workers Party or Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan –PKK) (Milliyet, September 23; Hurriyet, September 22; Anatolia, September 21). The General was in the Nusaybin district of the southeastern province of Mardin at the time, accompanied by most of the senior command of the TSK.

General Basbug identified three main responsibilities ascribed to the TSK regarding the struggle with the PKK:

• Ensuring the security of the people of southeast Turkey and protecting them from “the repression of the terrorist organization.”

• Preventing unauthorized entries and exits through border regions.

• Establishing territorial control of the countryside and seeking, finding and neutralizing terrorists.

The Chief of Staff noted that most PKK volunteers are dead by the age of 26, advising the PKK’s young fighters that the only way out is to disarm.

Among the most controversial parts of the address were the General’s remarks on Kurdish language education, which appeared to be at odds with the government’s willingness to re-examine this controversial issue. “According to Article 3 of our Constitution, Turkish is our official language. Turkish is our common language of communication. It is also the language of the economy. The road that leads to prosperity passes through Turkish.” Vatan columnist and Jamestown contributor Rusen Cakir noted, “There are serious disagreements between the government and the TSK about the anticipated cultural and political steps,” despite their shared views about the limits of the peace process (Vatan, September 24).

General Basbug’s speech came only days after Turkey’s domestic intelligence service, the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (National Intelligence Organization – MIT), issued a warning to all Turkish security agencies that PKK cadres had ordered the commencement of the "serhildan" (uprising) process in response to the government’s failure to release imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s “roadmap” to a resolution of the Kurdish dispute. According to the MIT, the uprising will take the form of setting fires (especially to private vehicles), resistance to the police and attacks using stones and sticks (Milliyet, September 20; Hurriyet, September 27; Radikal, September 30).

In an interview conducted after the General’s address, Basbug commented on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent statement that Syria might be prepared to pardon PKK militants in Syria who lay down their arms and surrender. “We embrace anyone who lays down arms because our goal is not to take revenge but to end terrorism. We cannot end terrorism by hunting terrorists. Because every terrorist killed is replaced by another one" (Today’s Zaman, September 17; Milliyet, September 24). Many of the PKK’s most militant commanders come from Syria. Assad’s suggestion was interpreted by some as a prod to the Turkish government to consider a general amnesty to advance the peace process (Today’s Zaman, September 17). General Basbug suggested that such an amnesty would be useful, but would be unlikely to bring all the fighters in at once. “There can be no miracles in the war on terror.” According to the General, financial support from sources in Europe must also be cut off. “You have to fight with all your strength on all fronts.”

Basbug also pointed out the important role of economic reforms in battling terrorism, noting that the average Turkish citizen “wants employment, bread on the table and education… If these problems are solved, these people can become less vulnerable to exploitation by the terrorist organization [i.e. the PKK]. We must make people more resistant to terrorism” (Milliyet, September 24). Some Turkish commentators described the General’s remarks as a return to military involvement in Turkish politics (Hurriyet, September 25).

IRANIAN NAVY STRUGGLES TO COMBAT PIRACY OFF SOMALIA

While official and semi-official Iranian news sources reported a successful action by the Iranian navy against Somali pirates on September 21, there are serious questions regarding the scale and effectiveness of Iran’s naval operations in the Gulf of Aden. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), two Iranian warships repelled Somali pirates attempting to hijack three Iranian merchant vessels off the Somali coast (IRNA, September 21; Press TV [Tehran], September 20; Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran Radio One, September 19; Fars News Agency, September 21).

Iran has made impressive claims about the role of Iranian ships in the Gulf of Aden. According to Rear Admiral Fariborz Qaderpanah, "Protecting security of tankers, vessels and trade cargo ships has won us international admiration and this indicates the exemplary might and capacity of [Iran’s] naval forces at the regional and global levels” (Tehran Times, September 1). The Iranian media is full of descriptions of the impressive deployment of the battleship IRIS Khark and the destroyer IRIS Sabalan, the third such Iranian naval deployment in the region since May 2009. Iranian spokesmen claim that the navy has escorted hundreds of Iranian vessels and over 50 foreign vessels that had asked for their assistance in passing through the troubled waters off the Somali coast. Iranian naval commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari announced in July that Iranian ships had “nearly abolished the phenomenon of piracy” in the region (Fars News Agency, July 23).

The reality of the Iranian deployment is somewhat different, however. While much of the international media has repeated official accounts of the deployment of an Iranian battleship and destroyer to the Gulf of Aden on September 1, it does not appear to have occurred to these sources that the last battleships in the world (belonging to the United States) were decommissioned some 15 years ago, or that the stated deployment of 388 sailors would be woefully small to man such a flotilla. Iran not only has no battleships, it has no capital ships of any type. The Khark (or Kharg) is not even a warship, but rather a 33,000 ton Olwen class Replenishment ship, built in Britain c.1977. The Sabalan is not a destroyer, but is a relatively small, British-built, 1971 vintage Alvand class frigate. Its main armament is Chinese missiles that replaced the original British missiles in a refit. Iran has two American-built World War II vintage Allen M. Sumner class destroyers purchased by the Shah of Iran in the early 1970s, as well as one British-built destroyer of similar vintage, purchased by Iran in 1966. All three of these destroyers are no longer on active service, making frigates Iran’s most formidable warships.

Warships from over 20 countries currently patrol the waters off the Somali coast in an effort to protect commercial shipping from the depredations of Somalia-based pirates, most of whom operate out of the relatively stable autonomous region of Puntland. Like the Chinese and Russian naval deployments off Somalia, the Iranian ships operate independently of the international Combined Task Force (CTF-151) (see Terrorism Monitor, April 24). Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) gave its approval to the first Iranian naval deployment last May with the understanding that the Iranian mission would last until October 21, 2009 (Kuwait News Agency, May 20).

International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos applauded Iranian anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf in mid-September (U.N. News Centre, September 17). Mitropoulos was in Tehran for meetings with Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). While the IMO chief praised Iran’s mission to restore security in the Gulf of Aden, Saeed Jalili took the opportunity to describe the presence of “alien warships” in the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea as “modern piracy” (Fars News Agency, September 15).

While the average deployment of a naval force in foreign waters is six months, Iran’s deployment period has averaged only two months thus far, which suggests that Iran is either experiencing difficulty in maintaining its deployments, or is attempting to give experience in active operations to as many naval personnel as possible.

The current deployment replaces the IRIS Alborz and the IRIS Bushehr. Though both of these ships were presented as “warships” in Iranian press reports, the Alborz is a British-built 1971 vintage Alvand class frigate, while the Bushehr is a Bandar Abbas class Light Replenishment Ship built in Germany in 1974. The Iranian ships operate out of the naval port at Bandar Abbas.

The Iranian naval presence has not been welcomed by all in the region. In Yemen, Nasserite opposition leader Muhammad al-Sabri stated that the Iranian naval mission was an indication of imminent Iranian intervention in the conflict raging in Saada province between the government and Zaydi Shiite rebels (Sahwa Net, August 31).

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