A sergeant who had been assigned to Special Operations in the Turkish military and deployed to Iraq after an attack by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the Turkish Consulate in Mosul revealed how a false flag coup attempt unfolded in Turkey in July 2016.
İbrahim Çölkesen, a former sergeant with the elite Special Forces Command (ÖKK), was deployed on several secret missions abroad including the assignment to liberate the Mosul consulate in Iraq after the ISIL attack in 2014. When he received the order to respond to a terror attack in Ankara on the night of the coup attempt in 2016, he saw no reason to question the order and thought it was no different than ones previously issued.
However, he suddenly found himself indicted on charges of attempting a coup against the government. In a 12-page handwritten defense statement submitted to the court on November 9, 2017, Çölkesen said his unit was deployed to military headquarters in Ankara because of a possible terrorist attack. Documents obtained by Nordic Monitor tell a completely a different story than the government’s narrative of the July 15 events.
According to his testimony, there was no unusual activity when they were deployed to General Staff headquarters, but things quickly became chaotic when civilians gathered in front of the headquarters at the urging of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and some members of the group started shooting at them.
The 27-year-old sergeant said the operation plan, which appeared to be within the chain of command, against the terrorist attack on General Staff headquarters, was a military assignment called a KOH or “Unconventional Operation” (Konvansiyonel Olmayan Harekat), a specialized term used in the Turkish Land Forces for asymmetrical warfare and guerrilla tactics. The mission order was circulated on a need-to-know basis, and the team was assembled from various units.
The sergeant, who joined the Special Forces as an intelligence and operations expert, recalled how he was deployed to Iraq in July 2015 on a secret mission order that was issued while he was on vacation. The original order was to deploy to the Silopi district in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast but was changed when he and others were assembled with full gear at the command post. Instead, his team was shipped to northern Iraq to against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed separatist group that has been fighting Turkish security forces since the 1980s.
His assignment to Iraq was extended from two months to seven because of the Bashiqa crisis, which erupted between Ankara and Baghdad over the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraqi territory. Later he was deployed to the Efes-2016 Combined Joint Military Exercise in May 2016, participated in by units from friendly and allied countries. His commanders then ordered him to report for a military course on combat tactics in residential areas in Ankara, finishing the training on July 15, 2016.
According to his statement, orders to the Special Forces were often delivered to operational teams verbally although written orders were prepared in advance at the senior command level. Since Special Forces units were often deployed at the last minute for quick response to emergencies, they do not see written orders. They were also trained not to question orders from commanding officers, Çölkesen noted.
On the morning of July 15 Çölkesen, Lt. Murat Alatirik and Sgt. Halil Ibrahim Ataalp were summoned by commanding officer Col. Murat Korkmaz, who told them to get ready for a KOH and security protection mission in the evening. Col. Korkmaz told them to report to the guard unit with their gear, adding that he would let them know the exact time over the phone. They reported to the guard unit at 22.00-22.30 hours, with many members of the team coming from different battalions. “I thought the commanders wanted to test our ability to work with members from different battalions,” Çölkesen said.
He told the court that the special team which was assembled to liberate the Mosul consulate from ISIL was also set up in the same manner with the participation of troops from various battalions. The mission was explained for the first time at the guard unit while they changed their uniforms and got ready for action. Col. Korkmaz said there was an emergency because of a possible attack against the General Staff headquarters. When the team came to the intersection near the headquarters, they were stopped by the police and came under heavy fire, which resulted in the injury of two members of the team. He said he asked the police what was going on and the police officer said he didn’t know and that they were simply told to block the road.
After negotiations between the police chief and Col. Korkmaz, they were cleared to go to General Staff headquarters. When they entered the building from the south gate at 00.19 hours, there was no unusual activity in the building. They were told to secure the perimeter. Soon a group of some 50 people who had gathered in front of the building started shouting and throwing stones at the troops. The team was concerned because of suicide bombing attacks that had taken place in the heart of the Turkish capital in recent months, which included a deadly attack on busses that were carrying military members.
Çölkesen said the team thought there might be suicide bombers among the crowd of civilians. When several people started shooting at the troops, he said he was convinced that this was actually a terrorist attack. Nevertheless he said he did not fire and did not injure or kill anybody. Things got more chaotic with airplanes flying low and a chopper bringing reinforcements to the headquarters. Çölkesen realized the coup bid only in the morning hours and did not even have an idea which side he was on as he was simply following the orders from his commanding officer, Col.Korkmaz, who assembled his team and told them they had been deceived and ordered them to give up their weapons and surrender to the police.
When the police detained him and the others, they were forced to lie on the ground half naked and handcuffed and were later put on busses to transport them to the Ankara police station. The police officers who were lined up on both sides of the road started kicking, cursing and roughing them up as they walked from the bus to the detention facility. The beating caused him to collapse and fall on the ground, although his hands were freed from the plastic handcuffs due to the kicking of the police officers. The beatings and torture continued in the detention facility as well as they were denied water for 24 hours and food for 36 hours. When his statement was taken, Çölkesen was exhausted from the beatings and the lack of adequate food and water.
Sgt. Çölkesen’s statements corroborated other witness accounts, which also showed that the special operations unit was drawn into a false flag coup bid during which the blame was put on them. The ÖKK, which was not under any force commanders but rather was commanded directly by the deputy chief of General Staff, was mobilized under false pretenses. This mobilization was later branded part of the coup attempt in order to bolster the view that it was an actual coup bid.
The man who played his role in the coup plot devised by Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was Maj. Gen. Zekai Aksakallı, the then-commander of the ÖKK. He set a trap for the officers and troops under his command as part of a deal with the government that paid off later, with him being promoted to lieutenant general. The KOH order was issued to Chief of Operations and Training Col. Ümit Bak, who shared the order with Regiment Staff Officer Col. Fırat Alakuş, Deputy Garrison Commander Col. Murat Korkmaz and Lt. Col. Halit Kazancı.
A similar order was also sent to Brig. Gen. Semih Terzi, who was commander of the First Special Forces Brigade in Turkey’s Silopi district. This order required that only selected people knew about it, that they should act on a need-to-know basis and the no one speak to others about it by “official command.” Talking on the phone in particular about the mission and order was forbidden. Those who needed to know would only know what they had to and carry out the orders.
To complement the plot the Special Forces Expertise Training (ÖKİK-4) graduation ceremony had been moved to July 14, a day early, which was unusual. Chief of General Staff Akar and Deputy Chief of General Staff Yaşar Güler were present for the ceremony. The surprise was the participation of National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Fidan, which looked very suspicious. Once the program was over, it was time for dinner. Two important meetings were held that night. The first was between Akar, Güler, Fidan and ÖKK commander Aksakallı. Afterwards, Akar and Fidan had a private meeting between 20:30 and 00:30, which was most unusual and remarkably long.
The surprise meetings of the night were not over. After Akar left, Fidan and Aksakallı talked for an hour as they walked together from the security gate of the Special Forces Command towards the building of defense company FNSS Defense Systems A.S. This was very unusual as well. It was obvious that something extraordinary was going on. The commanders who learned about these meetings thought they were about to perform the KOH drill that was to take place on July 15.
What is more, parachute jumps for the ÖKK scheduled for July 15 were cancelled due to weather and postponed to the 18th. The weather on July 15 was clear, and this was obviously done to free the ÖKK from previous commitments and make it an object of the coup investigation.
At 14.00 on July 15, there had been a meeting at General Staff headquarters about the fight against terrorism. Col. Bak attended the meeting chaired by Güler. The meeting ended at about 19.00. But Güler and Land Forces Chief of Staff İhsan Uyar had left earlier one after the other because they were called by Chief of General Staff Akar.
At around 18.00 Special Forces Chief of Operations and Training Col. Bak called the first group to join the operation and ordered them to go to their posts. The drill was under way. Col. Alakuş and Lt. Col. Yazıcı, who had moved to Akıncı Air Base with the units under their command, were to go to General Staff headquarters and provide security for Akar. Col. Korkmaz was called at about 21.00 and ordered to take his team to the Presidential Guard Regiment. They were supposed to say that they were there “for a drill” when they arrived at their designated location.
They were wrong. By the time they realized the plot, it was too late. Aksakallı, who gave the KOH orders to his subordinate officers, betrayed them by testifying that they were putschists. Now Col. Bak, Sgt. Çölkesen and many unsuspecting military officers are trying to make their cases in court, where the judges and prosecutors, completely subordinate to the Erdoğan government, don’t bother to listen to their version of events as the decision about their complicity in the coup attempt has already been made.ÖKK_ibrahim_cölkesen_darbe_statement