ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish military prosecutors dropped a case against five military officers who were being investigated for negligence in the military air strike in 2011 that killed 34 smugglers mistaken for Kurdish rebels, saying there was no ground for any legal action, the state-run agency reported Tuesday.
The verdict of non-prosecution drew criticism from opposition parties who are angry that no one has been held to account for the botched operation. The victims' families said they would appeal the decision.
The air strike near the border with Iraq resulted in one of the largest one-day civilian death tolls in the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels, who took up arms in 1984. The air raids were carried out at a time of intense fighting between the troops and the rebels, before Turkey began peace negotiations last year with the rebels' jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The rebels would often sneak into Turkey from bases in northern Iraq to carry out attacks.
Most of the smugglers killed in the air raid were teenagers. The Anadolu Agency said military prosecutors investigating the case decided not to proceed with any possible legal action, arguing that the officers were acting under orders and that the strike was an "inevitable mistake" by officials "fulfilling duties."
The agency report cited a detailed account of the Dec. 11, 2011 incident by the military prosecutors' office, explaining that the order for the air strikes was based on drone images and intelligence suggesting "an expected terrorist attack."
Turkey's main opposition party and a pro-Kurdish party denounced the military prosecutors' report as a whitewash. "They waited for two years to exonerate the culprits, the murderers, those who gave the orders and those who carried out the orders," said Meral Danis Bestas, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.
"The person who is ultimately responsible is the prime minister. And secondly, the military chief of staff is responsible," said legislator Sezgin Tanrikulu, of the main opposition, Republican People's Party.
Bestas said the families would appeal the prosecutors' decision at a military court.