Over 100 civilians in Kaduna, Nigeria, were killed during a religious celebration on 3 December in a drone strike carried out by the Nigerian Army. The drone, recently acquired from Turkey’s rapidly expanding defence sector, was mistakenly deployed when the army misinterpreted the civilian gathering as bandit activity. This incident, currently under investigation by President Bola Tinubu, exemplifies the dire consequences of the unchecked proliferation of advanced drone technology in global defence industries and its impact on civilian safety.
In similar vein, Turkey’s defence industry, especially under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been at the forefront of global discourse on military drone operations. Since 2015, Turkey has been actively developing its defence industry, leading to its major companies becoming among the world’s top arms dealers. The political influence in Turkey’s drone and arms production is underlined by the industry’s ties with President Erdoğan’s family and the centralisation of defence decisions under his presidency.
The international attention drawn to Turkish drones, especially those used against Kurdish forces, was heightened when Azerbaijan employed them against Armenian forces. This brought about sanctions and increased scrutiny, notably after their deployment in the Ukraine conflict. Baykar, a Turkish company, has reportedly exported TB2 drones to over 30 countries, including EU members like Poland and Romania, marketing these drones in regions such as the Middle East, Caucasus, and Africa, each costing around 5 million pounds.
The use of these drones has often resulted in civilian massacres in the countries they were exported to, similar to the recent tragic event in Nigeria, raising serious questions about the norms governing these exports in terms of international human rights and law. Another stark example is Ethiopia’s use of these drones against Tigray militants, leading to significant civilian casualties.
Since 2007, Turkey has increasingly utilised drones for military purposes, including surveillance, intelligence, and attacks. Initially using drones from the USA and Israel, Turkey has extensively deployed its own manufactured drones since 2018. This widespread use has led to numerous civilian casualties, predominantly Kurdish, with critics denouncing these actions as extrajudicial killings, raising significant human rights concerns.
Notably, Turkish drone strikes have caused civilian casualties in various Kurdish regions, as documented by organisations like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). These attacks, often involving children, underscore the devastating impact of Turkey’s drone warfare.
Furthermore, Turkish drone and aircraft attacks in North and East Syria have targeted vital infrastructure, leading to substantial economic damage. An organisation campaigning to end cross-border bombing has also documented the Turkish state’s extensive military presence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, reporting numerous civilian casualties and displacements in the region due to Turkish bombardments from 2015 to 2022.
In Duhok province, a Turkish drone attack recently killed an off-duty Peshmerga fighter, Ali Jamil, and injured a shepherd near a populated area, further illustrating the lethal reach of these unmanned aircraft. The Turkish defence ministry claimed to have “neutralised” two PKK members in the area, using a term often denoting adversaries captured, wounded, or killed. However, this incident in Duhok, and the broader context of drone warfare, highlights the urgent need for stringent control measures, ethical considerations, and responsible use of military technology to prevent civilian casualties and uphold international law in conflict zones.