Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with John H. Kelly
The Turks had a mountain cavalry brigade which still in the mid 1960s used horses and donkeys. It was stationed in Eastern Turkey. One of the things that an American military assistance team, supported by the Pentagon, insisted on was that such a unit was a waste of money. We wanted that brigade converted into an air mobile unit—trade the horses and donkeys for helicopters. That made that brigade much, much more expensive to maintain. That unit was used primarily for internal security purposes against the Kurds; so I am not sure that we gave every good advice on this issue. Today perhaps a mobile unit makes sense; then the conversion was probably premature. I remember attending the last parade that the brigade put on before it got rid of its horses and donkeys in Siirt, a town in Eastern Turkey. It was a wonderful scene because there were probably 2,400 men on horseback riding by; you don't see sights like that anymore.
One of the issues that we were always sensitive to was the use of US military equipment being used for internal security operations. But in the 1960s there wasn't that much action; the Kurds were not yet in active revolt. There were occasional ambushes of gendarmes by a few Kurds, but it was a minor matter. Cyprus was the main concern, both politically and in politico-military affairs. The Turks had bombed parts of Cyprus in 1964 in retaliation, according to the Turks, for the atrocities inflicted on their countrymen by the Cypriot Greeks. You can still today see pictures of Turkish babies laying slaughtered in bathtubs. The Turks had used Incirlik Air Force base as the take off point. That meant that we had watched the planes take off from that airfield although since the Turks often did that for training runs, it didn't necessarily follow that we knew what the Turks were up to. But the Greeks and Cypriots insisted that we could have warned them and I suspect that that was probably true. That incident led to a letter from President Johnson to the Turkish Prime Minister stating in effect that if Turkey were to become involved in a war with Greece, we might not come to their assistance; that letter was a perfect illustration of what made US-Turkey relationships difficult. It was sent in the hopes that such a threat would head off what the US administration thought might well become a Turkish invasion of Cyprus—an event that actually did take place, but much later. From 1948 on, we had been perceived by the Turks as their greatest allies; they resented Johnson's letter and viewed essentially as a betrayal. So our relations with Turkey in the mid-1960s were difficult; the Johnson letter was undoubtedly another reason why the Turkish military did not wish to get too close to the US Embassy as a sign of displeasure. On the other hand, the Turks accepted the military assistance ungrudgingly.