Government prepares for major overhaul of Turkish military
PM Erdoğan sat alone at the head of the table at Monday’s YAŞ meeting, a symbol of civilian authority over the generals as the army chief used to sit beside the prime minister in the past. (Photo: AA)
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is preparing to extensively restructure the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in an attempt to strengthen the institution’s commitment to democracy and increase its effectiveness in the fight against terrorism.
The government plans to restructure the Turkish Armed Forces in order to avoid further tensions in the future and to make it more effective in the war against terrorism. The military’s shortcomings and negligence regarding deadly attacks made by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party frequently make their way to the media, generating calls to reform the TSK
Turkey’s military has ousted several democratically elected governments and has ongoing disputes with the AK Party government that intervene in the administration of the country, which is unacceptable in a democratic nation.
The latest crisis between the government and the military began last week when four top commanders, including the chief of general staff, requested early retirement in the wake of the government’s determination not to promote generals at the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting who are suspects in a coup case. The YAŞ convened for a four-day meeting that began on Monday. A similar crisis concerning the promotion of coup suspects emerged at the last YAŞ meeting, which convenes yearly to discuss promotions and dismissals within the armed forces.
The government plans to restructure the TSK in order to avoid similar tensions in the future and to make it more effective in the war against terrorism. The military’s shortcomings and negligence regarding deadly attacks made by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) frequently make their way to the media, generating calls to reform the TSK. In the latest PKK attack, 13 soldiers were killed in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district. The Turkish general staff came under harsh fire for failing to protect the soldiers and for a poor response time in reaching the site of the attack.
The government has decided that the Defense Ministry and the general staff will carry out reform studies from a single center. The Defense Ministry has been working on reforms to shorten the duration of the obligatory military service and to instate a single type of service which would entail nine or 12 months in the military and would make the duration of service the same for all conscripts. Today, the duration of military service required is either six or 15 months, according to the conscript’s level of education. A team of experts established at the prime ministry have begun examining a report prepared by the former chief of general staff, Gen. Hilmi Özkök, in 2005.
The report, titled “The 2010 Vision for the TSK” calls for the gradual modernization of the TSK.
In the wake of the latest resignation crisis, the government has decided to include amendments to harmonize Turkish legislation with the EU -- which Turkey aspires to join -- in its reform package. In line with this strategy, it aims to subordinate the general staff to the Defense Ministry.
According to Article 117 of the Turkish Constitution, the chief of General Staff currently answers to the prime minister; however, the General Staff is not tied to the Prime Ministry or his office, and is autonomous in the exercise of its duties and powers. The government would need to make changes to the Constitution to tie the general staff to the Defense Ministry.
One of the major changes in the structure of the TSK will be made to the land forces command, which is the largest of the TSK forces. The Turkish Land Forces currently command four armies: the Aegean Army Command, the 1st Army Command in İstanbul, the 2nd Army Command in Malatya, and the 3rd Army Command in Erzincan. The government plans to abolish the Aegean Army Command and the 3rd Army Command in Erzincan.
Although the abolishment of the Aegean Army Command -- which was established in response to threats from Greece -- has been debated for a while, no steps have yet been taken to this effect due to nationalist reactions. The 1st Army Command in İstanbul and the 2nd Army Command in Malatya will be renamed the West and East Armies. The air force unit of the land forces command will be made stronger and its role in the fight against terrorism more important.
The heads of land, air and naval forces will be given the post of the deputy chief of General Staff. The logistics, intelligence, planning and principles and education units in each of these commands will be abolished and all work previously so divided will be carried out at the general staff headquarters. The position of general staff planning and principles president will be split in two and a new presidency, which will be responsible for financial affairs, will be established at the general staff. In this way, financial administration will be carried out from one center.
AK Party Ankara deputy Haluk Özdalga told Today’s Zaman that it has become absolutely necessary to overhaul the Turkish military, while AK Party deputy Soner Aksoy said the terrorist attacks over the past three years are sufficient cause for the restructuring of the TSK.
Aksoy had earlier called on the newly retired Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner to resign and account for the deaths of the 13 soldiers in Silvan.
Promotion system to change
The en masse resignations prior to the YAŞ meeting have prompted the government to make changes to the TSKs promotion system. This system, which currently calls for a certain duration of service at each rank before promotion, will be abandoned and replaced by a system that takes success and competence into account. So, a military member may never become a general even after serving 28 years.
Command of the gendarmerie will be tied to the Interior Ministry. In line with the EU harmonization efforts, military expenses will be open to auditing by the Court of Accounts. In an effort to reform the military judiciary, the Military High Administrative Court (AYİM) and the Military Supreme Court of Appeals will be abolished. Radical amendments will be made to the Military Penal Code and the definitions of crimes relevant to an officer’s post will be changed.
The Personnel Law of the TSK will be amended and the defense minister’s authority to suspend military members who are tried in court will be made clear.
Erdoğan attends 2nd day of YAŞ
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday attended the second session of the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ), contrary to past practice when the prime minister would only attend the meeting’s first session.
YAŞ, a twice-yearly meeting where appointments and dismissals at the military are discussed, began on Monday. The meeting comes shortly after four top military commanders, including the chief of General Staff, requested their retirement. The generals’ move came in protest of the government’s determination to not promote members of the military who are suspects in ongoing coup cases. YAŞ resumed on Tuesday morning under the presidency of Erdoğan. The prime minister did not take part in the YAŞ afternoon session but instead held direct talks with Gen. Necdet Özel, acting chief of General Staff. Özel is not expected to be confirmed as the supreme commander until the key promotions are announced on Thursday. The council meeting will resume on Wednesday morning. In a first for a YAŞ meeting and contrary to the seating arrangement in 2010, when Erdoğan sat beside the armed forces chief, the prime minister sat alone at the head of the table, which was interpreted as a symbol of civilian authority over the generals. İstanbul Today’s Zaman