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Wikileaks docs link Turkish insurgents to attacks on U.S. troops

From David de Sola, CNN
  • Insurgents from Turkey reportedly attacked coalition bases
  • Several such attacks were reported in 2007
  • Reports are part of the WikiLeaks cache released this week

Washington (CNN) -- U.S. forces stationed near the Afghan-Pakistani border were subject to repeated attacks from Turkish militants in 2007, according to reports included among the tens of thousands of American military documents leaked this week.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has contributed peacekeepers to Afghanistan, but the documents describe attacks on NATO positions at or around Forward Operating Base Bermel. The attacks listed in these documents all failed, and in many cases the insurgents gave away their plans or position to the U.S. military because of insecure radio communications

The reports were among the massive cache of U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan published by the online whistleblower site WikiLeaks earlier this week. The Turkish Embassy in Washington did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

CNN Senior Pentagon Producer Mike Mount was at FOB Bermel, a post near the rugged frontier with Pakistan, from September to October of 2006. Mount was present during several insurgent rocket attacks on the base, including two in which a rocket landed on the base grounds.

In one, the rocket hit a dirt barrier near a cannon, sending shrapnel near an observation post and wounding a soldier. During a separate incident, Mount says a rocket hit an unoccupied space of the base, sending shrapnel throughout the base, hitting the plywood living quarters and shower facilities where Mount and CNN's team were staying.

There were no injuries during the second incident, because everyone had taken cover in a bunker. But military officials told Mount that Turkish insurgents were responsible for the attacks.

"For a number of weeks, they had picked up intelligence that there were Turkish insurgents firing these rockets at the base," Mount said. "They picked up on their communications that they were Turkish fighters and they were having trouble isolating them, finding them when they were firing the rockets, because they were putting the rockets on timers and hiding in ravines to give themselves plenty of time to escape before the rockets fired at the base."

The 2006 incidents that Mount experienced do not appear in any of the WikiLeaks documents reviewed by CNN. A few days before Mount and his CNN team left, the base commander told them that they had killed two Turkish insurgents believed to be responsible for firing the rockets at the base, but the documents published by WikiLeaks show that the rocket attacks continued in 2007.

The first documented attack took place in May of 2007. "Todays (sic) single rocket was the first involvement of Turkish fighters in directly attacking [coalition forces]," after spending about two weeks observing coalition forces and how they responded to ambushes, an unidentified analyst wrote. U.S. forces did not suffer any casualties or damages during this incident.

Less than a week later, Turkish fighters attempted a second attack on FOB Bermel, firing two rockets from a different position. An analyst speculated that the intent of the attack was to get a better sense of the range of fire for their weapons.

"The Turkish fighters appeared to use this indirect fire incident to gather knowledge on range from a previously unused [Point of Origin]," the report says.

The Turkish fighters stepped up their efforts in July of that year, attempting to ambush two platoons returning to FOB Bermel from a patrol. There were no American casualties, but the commander assessed that "it was most likely initiated by Turkish fighters." He also said, "The ambush fire was accurate and the [exfiltration] by the enemy was disciplined."

And they tried again in September, when four rockets were launched at a company of U.S. forces stationed at the Malekshay Combat Outpost near FOB Bermel. The document indicated that U.S. forces overheard communications throughout the day indicating that "Turkish fighters were preparing to fire rockets at the [Combat Outpost]." The four rockets missed their target, but the U.S. forces were able to pick up on insurgent communications to track the location of Turkish observers. The insurgents began fleeing toward the border to cross into Pakistan.

According to the record, the company notified Pakistani military officials that insurgents had fired rockets at them and were heading for the border. They also warned that they would be firing artillery shells in that general area, and suggested that the Pakistanis take cover. A total of ten shots were fired from FOB Bermel and the company.

After repeated attempts to contact Pakistani military, the company received a message from them which only said, "Please wait." Twenty minutes after the rounds were fired, the company picked up communications chatter indicating the rounds had hit their intended target. The gist of that chatter: "Nasrat, do you hear me? I hear somebody is injured. You don't hear anything else but this voice. This means everybody is hurt. (W)hen we arrive we can tell you the story."

The name Nasrat appears several times in the documents. In one report dated October 2007, he is described as "a Taliban commander overseeing Turkish foreign fighters repeatedly involved in initiating attacks against Task Force Eagle forces in southern Bermel district." The same report indicates he has been under communications surveillance for some time. "TF Eagle has monitored Nasrat on numerous [signals intelligence] gists since July involving attacks on coalition forces."

In October of 2007, radio transmissions gave away the position of a group of at least 14 Turkish insurgents to U.S. forces. A Predator drone confirmed their location, and two A-10 attack jets were deployed after the insurgents were "declared imminent threat," according to the document. The jets dropped a bomb on the fighters, and continued their assault with rockets, bombs, and chain guns. A patrol sent to the site an hour later found a blood trail, part of a head, six dead bodies, and a wounded insurgent. The report also notes that based on the blood trails at the scene, an estimated 15 to 20 Turkish fighters were suspected to have been injured or killed.

A few days later, U.S. forces at FOB Bermel picked up Turkish chatter saying, "Brother, we are leaving. It's got 15 minutes on it." After that time period elapsed, the base was attacked by three rockets, all of which missed their intended target. There were no U.S. casualties in this attack, and subsequent Turkish chatter was picked up indicating their acknowledgement that the rockets had missed.

But the insurgents would suffer their biggest loss a month later. U.S. forces picked up communications indicating there were plans to attack Malekshay Combat Outpost from two different positions. The local company commander devised a fire response to complement mortar and artillery rounds that would be fired from nearby U.S. bases against the insurgents.

Once the firefight began, more than 40 insurgents were observed to "wildly flee the area after indirect and direct fire began." F-15 and A-10 jets and AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships were called in to the area to bomb and strafe the insurgents.

The report from the incident says that after the final smart bomb was dropped, U.S. forces picked up insurgent chatter saying, "We are lost."

"My friend was taking me to Afghanistan," the report quoted one of the insurgents as saying. "Only two of us are left. I don't know where we could go. Now the other guy is lost. We are separated. I am disappointed we could not fight back."

The post-action report indicated that 30 insurgents were killed and an additional five were wounded. An intelligence source cited in the document said that two of the dead were Turkish fighters.

The final reference to Turkish insurgents in the WikiLeaks documents is from November 2009, when a security patrol came under fire. When the patrol went to the compound to investigate the source of the fire, they found a dead body and an undisclosed amount of Turkish money among the weapons and supplies that had been left behind by the insurgents.