ANKARA — A budding peace process between Turkey and its longtime nemesis, the Kurdish separatist militants, could shrink the prominence and budget of elite Turkish special operations units, officials and analysts agree.
But a military official familiar with Special Forces Command (OKK) said that regardless of the outcome of the peace talks, OKK will maintain its niche role and combat readiness.
“You don’t maintain your most elite force to counter one single threat only,” the official said. “Turkey will always face some kind of asymmetrical threat, Kurdish or otherwise.
“But it is true that fighting the [Kurdish separatist] PKK was the backbone of special operations for nearly three decades. The disappearance of that threat may, in fact, make OKK a slimmer and smarter force,” he said.
The PKK announced in late April that it plans to withdraw from Turkish soil as soon as possible. The announcement followed a call by jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan for a cease-fire as part of peace negotiations with Ankara, saying the PKK was “moving from armed resistance to an era of democratic political struggle.”
More than 40,000 people have died in the 30-year fight for an ethnic Kurdish homeland in Turkey’s southeast. But the Turkish government quietly has been in talks with Ocalan since last December to broker a historic peace agreement.
A procurement official said the shopping list for the OKK would be revised if lasting peace comes.
“We cannot ignore changing threats and new requirements,” the official said. “In times of relative peace, OKK’s requirements may look smaller in quantities but possibly more refined in technology. I cannot say if this will mean smaller or larger spending.”
The special operations forces have run various classified programs to buy new and upgrade existing equipment, with priority being given to high-tech gear.
“All indications point to a serious intention by the PKK for a complete withdrawal,” one EU ambassador here said May 7. “We expect violence to fade out completely this fall.”
The military official confirmed reports that for the first time in decades, the Turkish General Staff this year did not mobilize its commando units to the southeast as it has always done ahead of expected clashes in April or May.
Some 6,000 Turkish commando troops stationed and trainedin western garrisons were ordered to stay in their units until further notice.
Although its operations are strictly classified, military observers agree that the OKK is the Turkish military unit that has inflicted the heaviest losses on the PKK so far.
Founded in 1952 as the National Fighter Division and reflagged as the OKK in 1992, the unit’s tasks include special operations inside and outside of Turkey, combat missions, search and rescue, and planning and executing domestic security operations.
The OKK regularly conducts joint exercises with the other services. Its capabilities include reconnaissance, assault, anti-riot, anti-terrorism, intelligence-gathering and training tasks.
In its last publicly known operation, hundreds of OKK troops, backed by about 1,000 elite commando units from the Army, conducted a brief incursion in February 2008 into neighboring Iraq to attack PKK targets there.