TURKEY SEEKING U.S. REAPERS AND SUPER COBRAS FOR COUNTERTERRORIST OPERATIONS
Dissatisfied with the results of a joint venture with Israel to supply the Turkish Armed Forces (Turk Silahli Kuvvetleri -TSK) with Heron model unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Turkey is turning to the United States in an effort to purchase a much improved and far more lethal version of the Predator UAV known as the “Reaper.” The TSK is looking to the advanced drones to enhance its capabilities in combating the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – PKK) and to decrease its reliance on intelligence from American sources.
The MQ-9 Reaper has been described as a “true hunter-killer,” with lethal capabilities far in excess of those of the highly successful MQ-1 Predator. The Reaper, powered by a 950 hp turboprop engine, is three times as fast as the Predator and can remain in the air far longer with the use of external fuel tanks. The U.S. Air Force’s 28 Reapers were first deployed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. Since then it has also been used in Pakistan. The MQ-9 can be equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles (the most commonly used munition in attacks on targets in Pakistan’s northwest frontier region), and GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided munitions.
Turkey’s arms procurement agency, the Ministry of National Defense Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (Savunma Sanayii Mustesarligi – SSM) applied to purchase the MQ-9 Reapers made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems earlier this year. Export agreements have so far been approved for Britain, Germany and Italy.
Turkey has taken delivery of only two of the ten Israeli-made Heron UAVs originally scheduled for completion by October 2007, though these experienced technical problems at the Batman airbase in southeast Turkey that prevented their deployment (Today’s Zaman, March 5). Ankara has threatened to cancel the $185 million contract and is demanding financial penalties from the manufacturers, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems, which operate jointly as the Israel UAV Partnership (IUP) (Haaretz, May 18; Anatolia, May 20). The manufacturers blame the delays on cameras (Airborne Thermal Imaging Systems) being made by Turkey’s Aselsan Inc., which specializes in military electronics. IAI and Elbit Systems claim the Turkish made cameras are heavier than the original Israeli versions, reducing the altitude and flight time of the Herons (Hurriyet, May 22). SSM chief Murad Bayar says the camera issue has been resolved and after modifications to the engines are completed delivery of Israeli-made Herons will begin in August (Anatolia, May 21). Turkey is working on the design and manufacture of a number of locally-made UAVs and is reported to have expressed interest in participating in the development of the jet-powered Talarion, a joint European UAV design built by the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Co. (UPI, June 25). The Talarion is not expected to be available before 2015.
Despite disappointment with the Israeli Herons, Turkey is believed to have signed a $100 million contract for the supply of IAI’s HAROP “loitering munition,” an expendable bomb-equipped UAV that remains in the air up to six hours until a target has been selected through the relay of video imagery (Aviation International News, June 18). The HAROP is an improvement on IAI’s “Harpy.” Turkey purchased about 100 Harpys in 1999. Equipped with a 50 pound warhead, the HAROP’s flight characteristics make it especially useful in urban warfare.
Ankara is also seeking to purchase American-made AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters. Purchase of these aircraft was discussed in a June visit to Washington by TSK Chief of Staff General Ilker Basbug (Hurriyet, June 24). At present, Turkey operates a fleet of 32 single-engine AH-1 Cobra and nine heavily upgraded AH-1W Super Cobras that have seen extensive service in southeastern Turkey and Iraq. Manufacturer Bell Helicopter Textron no longer makes the Super Cobras so the TSK is attempting to buy surplus Super Cobras from the U.S. Marines as Bell Helicopter Textron begins manufacturing the new “Z” model of the Super Cobra and upgrading the Marines’ older AH-1Ws (Defense News, June 29).
A previous effort to purchase the Super Cobras failed due to U.S. needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, though industry insiders claim Turkey’s exclusion of U.S. firms from bidding on a lucrative contract for new attack helicopters over technology transfer issues played a major role in the Super Cobras being unavailable for Turkish purchase (DefenseNews.com, January 28, 2008; Today’s Zaman, April 13, 2008). A U.S. offer of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters was declined, due to a lack of infrastructure for the repair and maintenance of these aircraft (Hurriyet, June 24). Turkey is hoping for U.S. approval for purchase of the UAVs and helicopters by the end of the year.
Turkey is also reported to be seeking the purchase of a large number of Russian-made Mil Mi-28N anti-armor attack helicopters, though these would have little use against the PKK, which does not use tanks or other armor (Interfax-AVN, June 17).
FRENCH CONVERTS TO ISLAM CONVICTED OF RUNNING IRAQI JIHAD NETWORK
Eight men from the Toulouse region of France were handed sentences of six months to six years on July 9 by a Paris magistrate’s court for their efforts to support or join the jihad in Iraq (AFP, July 9). The public prosecutor said the defendants “hide behind the argument of the fight against a war of occupation,” though this is just a veil to “conceal their hatred of unbelievers” (La Depeche, June 19).
The two were captured by Syrian intelligence officials at an al-Qaeda safe house in Syria in December 2006 as they prepared to cross the border into Iraq. They were questioned for two months by Syrian authorities and deported to France in February 2007, where they were arrested and charged as they left the airplane. Further arrests of members of the jihadi network were carried out in the following months.
Sabri Essid and Thomas Barnouin (a.k.a. Thomas Abdelhakim) were both convicted of “criminal conspiracy for terrorist purposes” and given five year sentences with one year suspended and additional terms of three years probation. Several of the other suspects, including a Moroccan national and five native French converts to Islam, were given six year sentences for their role in recruiting and supporting a jihadi network. One of the defendants, Miloud Chachou, disappeared in Iraq and was tried in absentia. He was given a five year sentence and his arrest warrant was renewed.
Twenty-eight-year-old Thomas Barnouin converted to Islam in 1999 and left his home in Albi (50 miles northeast of Toulouse) to pursue Quranic studies at the University of Medina. While there he became convinced it was his duty to fight the Americans in Iraq. A Saudi contact introduced him to a network that would take him from Jordan to Syria, where he would be infiltrated with other volunteers into Iraq. Barnouin left Medina in 2006 just ahead of a Saudi security sweep, but Saudi authorities had recordings of telephone conversations in which Barnouin described his plan to friends in Toulouse who were also planning to go to Syria. The Saudis alerted Syrian security forces and the safe house was raided in December 2006, leading to the arrest of Barnouin and Essid. Barnouin tried to open fire on the Syrians with an AK-47, but was tackled before he could deploy the weapon (Le Figaro, October 15, 2007). Both men expressed their desire to “die as martyrs.”
The spiritual leader of the jihadi network was Shaykh Olivier Qorel, a French citizen in his 60’s of Syrian origin. Sabri Essid, a friend of Barnouin, traveled separately from France to Syria via Turkey at the urging of Qorel, who told him; ”You will meet your girlfriend again in paradise, but before then sell your car and settle your debts” (Le Figaro, October 15, 2007).
An anonymous tip to the French embassy in Tunis alerted French authorities to Sabri Essid’s plan to attack a supermarket in Toulouse and the American consulate in Lyon. Police put Essid under surveillance, which soon led to the discovery of a group of militant young French converts to Islam, all members of the same mosque. Unknown to them, their phones were tapped and they were closely observed for an extended period – according to one investigator: “There are miles of literature on each of these guys” (Le Nouvel Observateur, June 21, 2007). The converts were in the habit of getting together to surf jihadi websites on the internet.
It is believed some 60 French citizens have left France to join the jihad overseas since 2003. At least 12 have been killed (including two suicide bombers) while another 30 have returned home to incarceration in French prisons (Le Nouvel Observateur, June 21, 2007).