By: Ali Ünal
Source: Daily Sabah
In the aftermath of the coup attempt on July 15 by a military junta sympathetic to the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ)s, last week saw the largest discharge in the history of Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), with 1,684 officers initially dismissed from the army before the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting on Thursday, while another 1,389 officers were dismissed on Sunday. Force commanders, along with the commander of Turkish Armed Forces, are to maintain their posts.
Daily Sabah discussed the impact of the Gülenist coup attempt on the army, along with the aim and details of the attempted coup, with Retired Lt. Gen. İsmail Hakkı Pekin, who served as the head of Intelligence Department at Turkish Armed Forces General Staff. Asserting that the army will become stronger following the removal of Gülenist officers from duty, Pekin said that the Supreme Military Council took the best decision available.
Pekin asserted that the coup schemers intended to weaken Turkey and ultimately cause civil war. Pekin thinks Turkey will continue to be a NATO member, while following policies which will be more independent of NATO allies. Pekin added that he does not believe Turkey will isolate itself during the restructuring of the army and affirmed that Turkey has sufficient power to further an independent foreign policy.
Daily Sabah: Let’s start with the mass discharge of Gülenist officers within the TSK. In two stages over 3,000 military personnel were removed from duty, the largest dismissal in the history of the TSK. Is it possible to claim that the army has been cleansed of FETÖ members? Moreover, do you think these discharges weakened the army?
When we look at the numbers, almost half of the high-ranking officers, generals and admirals, were discharged for participation in the attempted coup. Around 3,000 officers and sergeants were removed from duty. However, I do not believe that the army is cleansed of all Gülenists. Investigations should continue, although these should not be prolonged, as this may unsettle the TSK. The investigations should be conducted appropriately in order to eliminate all Gülenist threats.
Gradual apprehension of military personnel, as was done during the Balyoz and Ergenekon trials, might render the army dysfunctional. This might also discomfort the remaining military personnel, regardless of their being guilty or innocent. It would be most appropriate for intelligence agencies to investigate suspects, and then to discharge them. A separate intelligence department might be established for this duty. This cleansing can also be done through disciplinary boards within the army.
As to whether the mass discharges will weaken the army, I believe that the existence of Gülenists weakened the army. After the coup, we have considered various incidents from the last decade, such as the Uludere incident and the downing of the Russian aircraft, and questioned whether Gülenists were involved. Counter-terrorist operations in several districts, such as Sur and Cizre, are also being called into question, as many officers were martyred during these operations. We are discussing the possibility that Gülenist officers acted in deliberate negligence ofduty. I believe the elimination of Gülenist personnel from within the army will be beneficial, instead of being detrimental.
DS:There were no changes in the top command following the YAŞ meeting. What is your take on this?
I believe this is the best decision available, even though I believe it would be more suitable if this were to change. It would have been better to change the generals at the top of the command, as they are worn out from all of the discharges. However, President Erdoğan might prefer to continue to work with them. I think that President Erdoğan knows the top command very well and trusts them. Considering conditions, you need to have people whom you trust in the top command.
On the other hand, when we look at the promotions, we see names which can help the Turkish Armed Forces to regain its strength. Most of the commanders who have been promoted are better trained in the ways of war, which is appropriate for the current situation, as Turkey will continue to fight against terrorism. Moreover, there are certain issues which continue to linger in Syria and Iraq, and Turkey needs a strong and reliable army to address these issues. Therefore, the decisions of the Supreme Military Council are the most appropriate for the conditions we live in.
DS:Based on the statements from the apprehended Gülenist officers, we understand that they started to infiltrate the army in the 1980s. Why was the army unable to protect itself against this threat?
There are two reasons. Firstly, the Turkish Armed Forces believed that the measures they had taken were adequate. While the Gülenists within the army were overt, there weren’t sufficient measures taken against them. Even though we had intelligence about them, we weren’t able to conclude the investigations. Most likely, their infiltrators obstructed the investigations.
Secondly, at the time the military didn’t have its own intelligence agency. While we were recruiting, we had to acquire information from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). As the Gülenists didn’t wear different uniforms or have distinct features, they were able to blend in. This makes the cleansing challenging. You may ask why didn’t the army just establish its own intelligence agency and eliminate the Gülenists? In order to establish a military intelligence agency would require a law to pass Parliament, and attempts to pass the law were at that time unsuccessful.
There were usually around a thousand officers and sergeants working for the MİT. When I became the head of military intelligence in 2007, there were only 13. Later, when we have enquired into certain names that we suspected as being Gülenists, we didn’t receive any response. Furthermore, in the police reports we received from 2008 onward, the subheading for Gülenists was removed. This happened in MİT reports starting in 2009. While we discussed certain issues with MİT directors, they didn’t possess the power to resolve these issues. Neither the state nor the TSK took this threat seriously until 2012. These were ineffective in blocking Gülenist infiltration into the army.
To conclude this topic, I believe the current security screening while employing personnel is inadequate. Currently, one has to pass two stages in order to qualify for the army: an examination and interview. We know now that the Gülenists stole the answers to the exam. They have also managed to bypass the interview, even though we carried out security screening in coordination with MİT and the police. It is possible that they infiltrated into the hiring departments within these organizations, which makes it a challenge to eliminate them.
DS: Turkey is simultaneously fighting against multiple terrorist organizations such as DAESH, the PKK and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Will the current situation have detrimental effects in the war against terrorism? What is the future of the war against terrorism?
I don’t believe that the current situation will weaken the army in its fight against terrorism. However, morale and motivation may be lowered. Other than this, it would be worse if the Gülenists remained in their posts. A couple might become a force commander or even worse, the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces. I believe the army and police will continue to fight side by side against terrorism with determination.
One problem is that the Gülenists might have sabotaged some of the aircraft. The damage they may have caused is yet to be discovered. These aircrafts are crucial in the fight against terror and are used in a multipurpose manner. There might be a shortfall in pilot numbers; however, it is possible to train pilots for these duties in a relatively short period of time.
DS: The closure of military schools and restructuring of military academies are being discussed. How will these be enacted?
It seems that these will be realized in two stages. Firstly, there are certain moves to get the TSK back on its feet. The closure of military schools may be regarded in this context. It is not possible to determine how many Gülenists are currently being educated in these schools. In order to avoid victimization of students, they should be offered alternatives. Regarding the military academies, instead of closing them down, they can be suspended for a time, preventing them from graduating cadets. The military schools should be investigated. The military academies should enact a system which relies on merit and loyalty, instead of dependence on exams. The educational system in these schools should be revised.
The closure of military schools should be discussed without obsessing over ideology. While military schools have some advantages over regular schools, they also have disadvantages. Still, I believe it is for the better to close these schools down.
Regarding midterm and long-term solutions, the command and control structure of the TSK has to change. It should be decided whether the General Staff will continue as a commandership or just as a headquarters. The TSK has retained the same structure since the Cold War. As it has been fighting against the PKK since 1984, there is a disconnection from military developments all around the world. For instance, we still do not possess missile defense systems and long-range missiles. We have to consider how to deter our enemies. We need to have battle-ready regiments. It is not possible to do this with all the 600,000 personnel we have. It would be more sensible to have 250,000 professionally trained and ready for battle. A professional army doesn’t mean not being a national army.
A possible national defense strategy could be to provide four months of military training to all citizens. When needed, they could be recalled for military training, to keep them fresh. A similar system exists around the world. We need to restructure the TSK to allow the state to utilize it as a part of foreign policy.
DS: Going back to the coup attempt on July 15, we know that the TSK seized control twice, in the 1960 and 1980 coups. They didn’t encounter resistance from people at the time. We see that people resisted the July 15 coup attempt and were fired upon. How do you evaluate this situation and what was the aim of the coup?
I believe that Turkey was the target of this coup, more so than President Erdoğan. The main aim was to break Turkey’s resistance. The success or failure of this coup meant nothing for the ones who planned it. They aimed to harm Turkey and thus they needed to weaken the TSK. This is actually the third coup, so to speak, after U.S. soldiers put sacks on our soldiers in Süleymaniye in 2003, and after the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and Ergenekon trials. The Sledgehammer and Ergenekon trials were used to free up positions in the TSK, so that the Gülenists could fill these posts. They discharged many patriotic and highly qualified officers through these trials. If these officers were still on duty, this coup attempt wouldn’t have happened.
It should be clearly stated that the interests of the U.S. and Turkey do not overlap. These attempts aimed to force Turkey into accepting U.S. guidance. If Turkey acts along the interests of the U.S., it will become disintegrated just like Syria. In this regard, we have to protect our interests and this is what Turkey is doing. This coup attempt was done in order to force certain demands upon Turkey. These demands were discussed in a report from the International Crisis Group dated April 8, 2016. Firstly, they stated that if Turkey continues to fight against the PKK, more blood will be shed. In connection with this, they alleged that Western cities would become unstable and the economy would collapse. They also claimed that DAESH and the PKK would start a civil war in Turkey. Therefore, they urged a new reconciliation process which involves Abdullah Öcalan and a new constitution. Besides this, they were also trying to force Turkey in accepting a corridor in Syria to be controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Considering all of these, Turkey is being cornered. Turkey expected to act in accord with U.S. interests in the Black Sea, Caucasia and Caspian region, according to the Extended Black Sea Project. Turkey has been resisting this and to break the resistance, the TSK has to be weakened.
You have made a distinction between the schemers and enforcers of the coup. Who do you think has planned the coup?
I don’t think that this was planned within Turkey. Looking at the timing, I believe it was planned by the US intelligence agencies. Of course, the US should not be considered as a singular entity. This coup looks like the work of neocons who are a group existing within the US administration and intelligence.
Are these neocons an independent entity than the political administration in the US?
I do not believe so. They have agents who infiltrated the political administration. There are many different executives who have different views. Neocons are even considering removing Turkey from the NATO. Moreover, we know the attitude of the US media towards the coup. We have seen that they waited until the results were clear. Ralph Peters, for instance, alleged that this coup was the last chance in order to prevent Turkey’s Islamization. There were comments of similar nature. Therefore, I believe there is a group within the US administration who has supported the coup, while others employed a wait-and-see approach. Obama was one of those.
There were allegations stating that Turkey’s NATO membership would be revised. How will the future relations be between Turkey and NATO?
We should admit that the US is the power behind NATO. However, we do not have to either align ourselves with the US or be their enemy, just because of it. We have to have realistic relations with the US. Our relations may deteriorate because of Gülen’s extradition and the coup attempt. The US cannot clearly state that they will not extradite Gülen to Turkey, but they may allow him to escape to another country, trying to fool Turkey. Therefore, I do not believe the relations between the US and Turkey will ever be the same again. I believe Turkey has to establish regional alliances with countries such as Russia, Iraq and Syria.
Turkey is a middle sized country and this kind of countries can survive only by exploiting the conflicts among superpowers. If Turkey aligns itself with a powerful country, the results may be disastrous. Turkey has to evaluate the relations from a strategic point of view. Otherwise, the issues will persist. I expect Turkey to establish better relations with the Eurasian countries. This means pursuing independent policies without leaving the NATO.
I also believe that we should abort our EU membership process. EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs EU. We also do not have to tolerate insults which claim that Turkey can enter the EU only in the year 3000. Turkey has to realize its power. They are trying to exploit our ethnic and religious soft spots. Thank God, our people are sensible.
Turkey should never pursue sectarian and ethnic policies; it has to employ a uniting policy. Turkey should also protect its national interests.
Turkey is getting closer with Russia once again. Are there limits to this? Could Turkey and Russia compromise for a common resolution in Syria?
They actually can. Both Turkey and Russia wants to protect Syria’s integrity. The US, Israel and Europe, on the other hand, want a divided Syria. As Turkey was alone in defending Syria’s integrity, it had to act according to the US. With the normalization, Turkey may have a more balanced policy. As a side note, I believe that China should also involve itself in this issue.
O n the other hand, I believe Turkey and Syria are very similar countries in regards with ethnic, sectarian structure. If the Syrian civil war hadn’t happened, I would have desired the unification of the two countries as a confederacy. There were beautiful developments between Turkey and Syria, just before 2011.
Turkey needs to find a solution to protect Syria’s integrity. I believe cooperation with Russia will be immensely effective in finding this solution. Therefore, I believe the normalization between Russia and Turkey will change the balances in Syria.
While the army is being restructured, do you believe Turkey will isolate itself in regard of foreign policy?
Turkey doesn’t have to isolate itself. Turkey possesses enough power not to do so. We need the army to fight against existing internal and external threats; therefore, Turkey does not have the luxury to isolate itself. While using the existing consolidated power, I believe we can healthily restructure the rest and conclude this process.