Turkish drones: Striking for the virtuous purposes | By Dr Haroon Muzaffar Buttar, Ankara 

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Turkish drones: Striking for the virtuous purposes


THE game-changing role of the Turkish combat drones in the fight against terrorism and in the conflict zones in Syria, Libya, and the South Caucasus shot them to worldwide fame.

The tactical effectiveness of Turkish drones impressively displayed that the combat drones have altered the modern warfare.

Recognizing their high level of effectiveness and the attractive mix of features to users such as to deliver destructive force without direct harm to operators, combat drones are spreading rapidly to a wider set of countries.

The use of combat drones is proliferating but there are concerns about their use for virtuous purposes.

What makes the case of Turkish drones unique is their deployment in the hot conflicts to achieve the virtuous purposes.

The Turkish drones have been effectively deployed in the fight against terrorism and against the forces of oppression and aggression with no or minimum loss to civilian life and property as well as maximum respect for universal legal principles.

An example of the effective use of the Turkish drones for a virtuous purpose is Turkey’s effective deployment of drones in its fight against the barbaric terrorism of PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization internationally by numerous countries, including USA and European Union.

Since early 1980s, Turkey has been fighting against PKK terrorists that are killing innocent civilians, whereas the Turkish armed forces are neutralizing terrorists with least loss to civilian life and property.

In fact, Turkey’s war against terrorism is central driver behind Turkey’s ascent as a drone power.

In fight against PKK, along rugged mountainous south-eastern border, Turkey realized importance of unmanned aerial systems for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Turkey approached to its western allies to get unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But the allies were reluctant to provide UAVs to Turkey.

The reluctance of allies pushed Turkey to develop its own sophisticated unmanned aerial systems.

Turkey developed one of its most sophisticated armed drones, Bayraktar TB2, and deployed it first time against PKK in 2016.

The use of drones enabled the Turkish armed forces to search and target individual PKK terrorists in their mountain hideouts and even inside the caves which were considered to be the strongest fortress of terrorists.

The utilization of drones allowed the Turkish armed forces to neutralize hundreds of terrorists without civilian killings.

Moreover, in northern Iraq and Syria, Turkish drones are used discriminately and proportionately to target PKK and DAESH terrorists who had been identified through a mix of human and drone intelligence.

In 2018, during operation Olive Branch, Turkish drones played a vital role in liberating the Afrin region from PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists in northern Syria.

TB2 drones with great accuracy and precision minimized the calamitous impact on the property and lives of civilians in the region that enabled a rapid and precise victory against terrorists.

Besides shifting the trajectory of war against terrorism, Turkish drones played a pivotal role in establishing the safe zone in Idlib, Syria, for Syrian refugees within the framework of the Astana process, thus helped to avert a major humanitarian crisis.

By launching an innovative drone operation in March 2020, Turkey succeeded in halting the Syrian offensive, and secured Idlib as a safe haven for refugees.

Had Idlib not been secured as a safe zone for refugees, it would have triggered a huge refugee crisis.

Another example of the effective use of the Turkish drones for a virtuous purpose is Libyan conflict.

In 2019, militias loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar conducted a military onslaught to topple the Tripoli-based UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

With little support from international community internationally recognized constitutional GNA was about to loose Tripoli.

However, in accordance with international legal norms and standards Turkey supported the UN-recognized GNA, and deployed armed drones in Libya under the framework of MoU signed between Turkey and Libya.

Turkish armed drones were instrumental to GNA forces by interdicting supply lines and destroying airbases used by Haftar.

Turkish drones forced the Haftar’s militias to retreat that ended the offensive against Tripoli, and the UN-recognised GNA made rapid gains.

More recently, in September 2020, the effective use of Turkish drones played a key role in liberating the Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh territories, which were illegally occupied by Armenia since 1994, but internationally recognized as de jure part of Azerbaijan.

The advanced Turkish drones owned by the Azerbaijan military destroyed approximately 90 tanks, 250 armoured vehicles and a similar number of artillery pieces, in addition to 39 air-defence systems of Armenian military that forced Armenia to withdraw from the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The effective and ethical strikes of Turkish drones against the Armenian occupied forces projected the prestige and power of Turkey.

The use of Turkish drones against terrorists, aggressors, and occupied forces exhibit that when artificial intelligence is controlled and used by a responsible state — that respects universal legal and moral values, the deployment of drones in a regulated and restricted manner allows to achieve the virtuous purposes of protecting national borders, life, land, and property of people.

—The writer is Assistant Professor at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, Turkey.