Turkey pays a price for purging counterterror professionals

Date posted: December 12, 2016

Michael Rubin

Istanbul is reeling in the aftermath of a twin bombing on December 10 that killed more than three dozen and wounded more than 150. Nothing justifies such terrorism. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is correct when he says, “All terror groups are equally vile.”

The investigation is already problematic. According to three former Turkish counterterrorism officials, the police cleansed the crime scene and wiped surrounding areas the morning after the attacks. They failed to collect all evidence — a procedure which would have taken at least two days — before sterilizing the crime scene. While the Kurdistan Falcons (TAK), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility, given fallacies in past TAK claims, it seems strange Turkish authorities would not want to conduct a full investigation. Censoring journalists in the wake of attacks, too, does little but breed distrust. Sometimes, transparency is the best policy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use the attacks to whip up public sentiment into a fury. Already, Turkish police are accelerating their crackdown on Kurdish politicians who challenge Erdogan’s ambitions.

The investigation is already problematic. According to three former Turkish counterterrorism officials, the police cleansed the crime scene and wiped surrounding areas the morning after the attacks. They failed to collect all evidence — a procedure which would have taken at least two days — before sterilizing the crime scene.

Erdogan should be introspective, however: Under his rule, security inside Turkey has languished. In recent years, there have been a number of terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) or Kurdish groups. Put aside the question of blowback: Turkey’s willingness to support and supply radical Islamists falsely assumes that radical groups do not turn on patrons.

There’s an even broader problem, however: As Erdogan has sought to assume ever greater power, he has prioritized loyalty over competence. In the wake of the abortive July 15 coup, he purged thousands of experienced counter-terror police and rotated others out of areas they know best. In effect, this means the Turkish security and police are operating blind. It can take years to gain the experience in any particular locality that those whom Erdogan fired had.

Erdogan can try to whip Turks into a frenzy as he seeks their support for his own dictatorial powers, and he can conflate TAK with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), People’s Protection Units (YPG), or Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in order to direct popular anger toward enemies of choice.

The real question Turks should ask themselves, however, is why terrorists keep slipping through the ring established by Turkish counterterror forces on Erdogan’s watch. Turkey exists in a tough neighborhood — that is not Erdogan’s fault.

Why each of Erdogan’s predecessors did a better job keeping Turks safe, however, is a very valid question Turks should ask, even if the end of a free press limits the space for them to do so.

Source: American Enterprise Institute , December 12, 2016

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