US Drones Moving From Iraq to Turkey
(John Reed) American MQ-1 Predator drones will start flying patrols over southeast Turkey to help monitor Kurdish separatist guerrillas there after U.S. drones depart from their bases in Iraq next week, according to Turkish press reports.
“In line with the U.S. plan to pull out of Iraq, Predators will fly for the last time from Iraq on Nov. 22; from then onwards the four predators currently based in Turkey will be taking over surveillance missions,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu according to the Anatolia news agency.
At least two of the drones are already at the U.S. Air Force’s Incirlik Air Base in south central Turkey, according to press reports. The Kurdish separatists group known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has long been active in the southeast corner of the country close to the border with northern Iraq.
In what could be an effort to head off the popular discontent seen in other countries that have hosted U.S. drones, Davotugu claimed that the American UAV missions would be overseen by the Turkish military.
“The data provided by those Predators will be shared in real time by a unit in Turkey and the routes for the Predators will be determined solely by the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] and our military officials,” Davutoglu said.
Turkey requested the drone presence since it has benefitted from intelligence collected by Predators flying missions over Kurdish territory in northern Iraq that Ankara says is used as a launching ground for PKK attacks against Turkish government targets.
All of this comes as Turkey is looking to beef up its own UAV capabilities with the purchase of MQ-9 Reapers, a larger, more heavily armed cousin of the Predator.
Turkish troops have repeatedly entered northern Iraq to hunt for the PKK. It is not clear if U.S. drones based in Turkey will have permission to cross the border into Iraq.