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Turkey's Army loses luster over PKK attack

Amid daily fighting, including an clash Thursday that killed 10, unprecedented public criticism is mounting over an Oct. 3 attack.

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One newspaper, Taraf, accused the Army of failing to act on intelligence that the Oct. 4 PKK attack was in the works. It ran on its front page classified aerial pictures taken by an unmanned military aircraft that seem to show the PKK's guerrillas preparing for their raid.

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On Thursday four more soldiers died in a clash with Kurdish rebels, and one in a helicopter crash that the military attributed to a technical problem.

"The cliché of Turkey run by militaristic generals, which was the image of Turkey for a long time, is no longer valid," says Hugh Pope, a Turkey analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based policy and advocacy organization.

In one indication that the military's ability to dictate events might be waning, prior to Turkey's last elections, in the summer of 2007, the military released a statement on its website airing its displeasure with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Despite this intervention, which came to be known as the "e-coup," the liberal Islamic AKP went on to win reelection in a landslide.

Still, the generals don't appear to be backing off from the press's attacks. In a tense press conference on Wednesday, Ilker Basbug, Turkey's top general, said the military would take legal action against anyone leaking material to the press about the recent PKK attack.

"This is my last word: I invite everyone to be careful and to stand in the right position," said a visibly angry General Basbug, flanked by his top generals.

"The systematic attacks that had increased in recent days would do nothing but increase the strength, determination, and will of the Turkish Armed Forces," he continued.

But Aytar, of TESEV, says the military's threats may carry less weight than they used to. "The Army's efforts to counter all this criticism, saying it's just an effort to weaken the military, don't fly anymore. It doesn't strike a chord with the public," he says.

"I think the Turkish public is now seeing more that this meddling in domestic politics, even in the tiniest details, has been hurting the military's ability to do its important job in defending the border against PKK attacks."

Increased public scrutiny of the military and its record might push Turkey to find a new way of resolving the country's decades-old fight with the PKK.

"It's a good start on the PKK issue," says Lale Sariibrahimoglu, a military analyst based in Ankara. "It could force the political authorities to curb the military's political involvement in the Kurdish issue and allow for more political solutions to come up."

Adds Mr. Pope, of the International Crisis Group: "It creates an opening for new kinds of thinking. The whole narrative of an easy military solution for PKK is now discredited."