The Pentagon released a readout on U.S. Secretary of Defense John Mattis’s meeting with Defense Minister Fikri Işık last week, mentioning a plan to increase cooperation in Turkey’s counter-PKK efforts.
So what is this plan? The answer is a little puzzling. Pentagon spokesperson CDR Sarah Higgins told me that “the plan” entails enhancing American intelligence collection efforts with Turkey, and also expediting the delivery of equipment purchased by Turkey, “when possible.”
We have two dimensions here, one is about intelligence efforts, the second is about the weapons sale.
In relation to intelligence, we already know that the Pentagon will double the capacity of Intelligence Fusion Center in Ankara, which is jointly run by Turkish and American officers, adding more U.S. intelligence assets, such as drones and other capabilities. This might be a genuine step that can help Turkish operations, since the U.S. effectively ended sharing reconnaissance intel on the PKK with Turkey in fall 2014.
But what about these weapons that Americans talk about? It is not only the Pentagon, President Donald Trump also mentioned the weapons in his statement during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington last week.
“Military equipment was ordered by Turkey and the president, and we’ve made sure that it gets there quickly,” Trump said.
Several Turkish journalists pursued this scoop and came up with answers. One report detailed every past Turkish weapons deal, including the joint production of Skorsky helicopters, guided munitions and even frigates. I tried to corroborate all of this with several American and Turkish officials, but the responses were unsatisfactory.
First of all Turkey has already resolved its disagreement with Skorsky and purchased $682 million worth of BLU-109 from the U.S. military last year. Turkey’s urgent demands in recent years were mostly related to high-tech surveillance capabilities for Turkish-made drones and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). A senior Turkish defense official who is involved with the arms deal said, Turkey was no longer in need of these sales. “We have already indigenously produced guided munitions and delivered them to the Turkish military. When it comes to the drone camera and optics system, we have also recently produced them on our own. Of course the U.S. ones can be still purchased for some certain optimization purposes, but there is no urgency,” he said, withholding his name due to government protocol.
Turkish officials, across the board were not aware of any specific Turkish request for military equipment, many speculated that what Trump said may be about the JDAMs. The senior Turkish official, who is also briefed about Erdoğan’s meeting with Trump, fortunately had an idea about it. “American officials brought up this during the talks. What they wanted to convey is that there was a new administration in place and, unlike the previous one, this time they were willing to quickly deliver whatever Turkey would like to purchase,” he said.
It seems like the Pentagon is still trying to figure out what to do about this “PKK plan,” yet negotiations still continue between the two countries. This single issue underlines the fact that the Trump White House has no Turkey policy at all. They have a strategy to defeat Daesh, and everything else is a loose end until the so-called physical caliphate is destroyed in Iraq and Syria.
Apparently the Trump administration brought up ” the weapons sale” issue to calm Turks down, who were very tense due to Trump’s decision to directly arm the PKK’s Syrian armed wing People’s Protection Units, (YPG). In a way they were trying to give something to the Turks that they can sell as a benefit at home.
Americans only look serious about kicking the PKK out of the Iraqi town of Sinjar. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Jonathan Cohen said the PKK would be thrown out of Sinjar one way or another. Other than that, Turkish officials shouldn’t expect much from Washington until U.S. Central Command is done with its war in Iraq and Syria.