However, recent statements made to some dailies by Turkish military officials indicating that they have not yet found any trace of a missile in the debris of the RF-4E fighter that was found late last week, run contrary to the initial remarks that the fighter might have been shot down by a missile. Added to the confusion are allegations run by some US papers that quoted US intelligence sources who questioned the Turkish version of the incident. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), for example, ran a story six days after the incident on June 29 and quoted US intelligence sources whom it said indicated that the Turkish warplane shot down by Syrian forces was most likely hit by shore-based antiaircraft guns while it was inside Syrian airspace. A finding in tune with Syria’s account and at odds with Turkey, said the WSJ, while quoting Ankara as saying that the jet was hit too far from Syrian territory to have been engaged by an antiaircraft gun.
The version of the jet downing story from unnamed US intelligence sources does not mean that their account is necessarily accurate.
At the end of the day, wherever the jet was downed, the Syrian action is unacceptable as it was hit without a warning as confirmed by third parties such as the US.
The problematic aspect of the jet downing incident is the fact that the recent statements contradict Turkey’s initial ones. Turkey initially stated that the radar tracking information concerning the flight of the jet proved that the jet, which was unarmed, was shot down in international air space. Ankara also said that such technical information was shared with NATO allies. Yet, conflicting reports continue coming from within both NATO and Turkey, casting doubt over Turkish explanations concerning the downing of the jet.
Gen. Baki Kavun, head of the communications department of the Turkish General Staff, for example, told the Milliyet daily on Monday that there was no information so far over whether the jet was downed by a Syrian missile. Turkey says technical analysis being made over the debris of the jet recovered late last week together with the bodies of the two pilots, are concluded; a further announcement will be made over the findings.
It is not, however, the first time that Turkish official version of explanations for an incident have been both confusing and misleading. Concerning the bombardment of Turkish-Kurdish smugglers last year in late December by Turkish F-16 jets near Uludere township and across the Iraqi border whom they were said to have mistaken for outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists, no light has so far been shed.
Recent remarks the Taraf daily made by a prosecutor investigating the Ulurede bombing on June 10, however, gave us an important clue over the reasons why this tragic incident has not so far been clarified. Chief prosecutor Ahmet Karaca said the General Staff has not as yet sent information to the prosecutor’s office concerning which military headquarters decided on the target to be bombarded and who gave orders to stage an assault against the smugglers. These are two important questions that need to be answered to shed light over the Uludere incident since they will tell us whether the smugglers were attacked because they were mistaken for PKK terrorists as a result of incorrect intelligence or whether the incident took place as a result of a callous disregard for human lives on the part of the officers.
This critical information mentioned by the prosecutor, which the General Staff has not sent to the court, has also not been shared with a parliamentary commission investigating the Uludere incident. We know this from remarks made to the press by lawmakers who are members of the commission.
The military has apparently been dragging its feet with regard to sharing critical information with both the prosecutors and the deputies that will shed light on the incident.
Similarly, the government relies on the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) on information concerning the circumstances culminating with the downing of the Turkish jet by Syrian forces.
Conflicting reports coming from the military as well as incomplete information provided by the military to the relevant civilian authorities on incidents such as Uludere and the jet downing, prompt me to rethink the dangers of the lack of assured access by elected governments to TSK activities and information that the military holds.
The government, which pretends that it fully controls the military, assumes that information provided by the military is always accurate. If this were the case, then why has the General Staff refrained from sharing all the information with the Diyarbakır prosecutor investigating the Uludere bombardment.
Both the Uludere and the Turkish jet downing incidents underline the serious problem of an absence of transparency, accountability and good governance in Turkish affairs.