The US has deployed four Predator drones to an air base in southern Turkey, a news report said on Friday, Nov 11.
The report, published in the Taraf daily, said a total of four drones arrived at Incirlik Air Base on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23, several days before PM Tayyip Erdogan discussed a Turkish request to purchase drones to be used in the fight against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a G-20 summit in Paris.
But the deployment of the US drones on Turkish territory is separate from the Turkish request to purchase drones from the US. In September, the Washington Post reported that Turkey sought the deployment of a fleet of US drones on its territory as a measure to be used against the PKK following US withdrawal from Iraq. Later in September, Erdogan said the US has agreed in principle to the Turkish request to deploy its drones on Turkish soil. In addition to hosting US drones in its soil, Turkey also seeks to buy its own armed drones from the United States, seeking to purchase MQ-9 Reapers, a larger and more modern version of the Predator.
The request, however, has been controversial, with some in Congress refusing to sell the aircraft to Turkey given Ankara’s deteriorating relations with Israel, a close US ally. The US administration, on the other hand, is reportedly willing to sell Reapers to Turkey and is trying to persuade the Congress not to block the sale.
Taraf said the drones, now based in Incirlik, will be used to monitor the PKK’s movements, but they will not provide real-time data from their surveillance flights for Turkish authorities. Data from the drones’ flights will be sent to the United States before reaching Turkish officials. No Turkish personnel will be involved in the command of the flights of the drones and no guarantee has been offered to Turkish hosts that the drones will not be used against third countries, Taraf said, citing anonymous military sources. The lack of Turkish control over flights of US drones, according to the report, means they could change their route and spy on Turkish targets, such as critical military buildings, instead of the PKK targets, without Turkish authorities even noticing.
Turkey’s requests to host US drones and buy its own drones from the US has surfaced as Washington prepares to withdraw its forces from Iraq by end of 2011. US drones based in Iraq as part of the Iraqi operation have been providing Turkish officials with data regarding the PKK’s movements since 2007, as part of Turkish-US cooperation against the terrorist group. The US administration has also agreed to sell attack helicopters to Turkey. The administration formally notified the Congress on Oct. 28 of a proposal to sell Turkey three attack helicopters, which will reportedly replace those Turkey lost in the fight against the PKK.
Under the $111-million deal, the US will take three AH-1W “SuperCobra” attack helicopters from the US Marine Corps inventory and sell them to Turkey. The sale would boost Turkey’s self-defense as well as regional security, a Pentagon notice to lawmakers said, Today’s Zaman reported.