The Turkish Ministry of Defense on Sunday published a list of weapons it claims to have seized from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) along with a video during an operation the Turkish military has been carrying out in northern Iraq since April 17. Russian man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) are the most striking among 1,043 weapons of various types exhibited in the ministry’s video.
According to the ministry statement, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) captured two SA-18 man-portable, infrared-homing surface-to-air missiles, which are produced by KB Mashinostroyeniya, a Russian state defense enterprise specialized in missile systems.
Turkey previously claimed that the PKK had used Russian MANPADS against its military helicopters and low-flying aircraft in Iraq. In 2019 the pro-government Turkish media reported that Russian MANPADS were seized in PKK hideouts, without providing any details.
Military experts claim that the PKK often uses these missiles against low-flying aircraft or helicopters during takeoff, particularly in Iraq as there is a higher probability of hitting them in mountainous areas.
So far, at least three TSK helicopters have been hit by shoulder-fired missiles. It was first officially announced in 1997 that two helicopters were shot down by the Russian-made SA-7 Strela in northern Iraq.
Most recently, in 2016, a TSK helicopter crashed after being hit by an SA-18-type missile. Two pilots in the helicopter as well as six troops defending an outpost on the border were killed, while 13 were wounded in the attack. Nordic Monitor previously reported that the Turkish army believed the Turkish Cobra helicopter was hit by the PKK on May 13, 2016 with missiles provided by Russia in retaliation for Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian Su-24 jet in the airspace over the Turkish-Syrian border on November 24, 2015.
An assessment of the incident by the military was revealed during a court hearing in Ankara on June 9, 2017 by Mehmet Şahin, a staff colonel who was a pilot in the Land Forces Air Command, which operated the downed AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter. Şahin was arrested as part of a purge of the military following a controversial coup attempt in 2016.
He said it was the Russians who orchestrated the shooting down of the Turkish helicopter with an SA-18 missile, referring to a rocket-brandishing incident on a Russian warship passing through Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait on December 6, 2015. The Caesar Kunikov sailed through the Bosporus with a soldier holding a shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile on the deck throughout the journey. It was an unusual spectacle and was widely reported in the Turkish press.
“The Russian navy went through the strait [in Istanbul] displaying an air defense missile, which I thought was the shoulder-fired SA-18. … The Russians first showed the missile on the Bosporus, and then they downed our AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter in Hakkari [province] on the Iraqi border. Two of our pilots were martyred in that incident,” he said. “We reviewed it many times, an analysis was made, and it was confirmed to me that the SA-18 was most probably the same missile displayed on the ship.”
According to military experts, after the attack on the helicopter in 2016, early warning and response systems against missiles were installed on all helicopters in the inventory of the Turkish Air Force to reduce the risk.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, in a statement made in April 2021, drew attention to the difficulties of an ongoing military operation, and mentioned in particular the risk to military helicopters. “Unfortunately, some countries that we know as friends have given missiles to the PKK. Therefore, each helicopter sortie carries risks,” he said.
Turkey is careful in mentioning the countries of origin of weapons seized from the PKK due to foreign policy priorities.
Turkey, which put forward conditions for approval of Sweden’s NATO membership, claimed that Swedish-made AT-4 anti-tank weapons were seized from the PKK and published photographs of them.
On June 28 Turkey, Finland and Sweden during a NATO summit in Madrid signed a memorandum to address Turkey’s concerns, paving the way for Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership.
Turkey has not made any statement about Swedish-made weapons since then. The ministry’s statement on Sunday did not reveal which country produced the seized anti-tank weapons.
Video of the shooting down of the Turkish Cobra helicopter:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan frequently states that the weapons given to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), in Syria by the US as part of the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are used against Turkish forces by the PKK. Erdoğan has so far not made a statement regarding the Russian-made weapons captured from the PKK.
Other weapons listed by the ministry on Sunday include 106 Russian RPG-7 rocket launchers, 50 Russian Degtyaryov-Shpagin large-caliber anti-aircraft guns, 31 Zagros sniper rifles, 85 Russian PK machine guns, 519 Russian AK-47 infantry rifles, 79 American M-16 infantry rifles and 73 Russian Dragunov sniper rifles.