As Hybrid warfare is not new since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine it has become a new buzzword that is widely used, both by military and civilian actors. While there is some confusion over the term–which leads to some difficulty in defining what it really is–what is at stake is how deadly it may create effects on global & regional security.
A recent example to be cited for hybrid warfare was recently carried out in Turkey, especially against Turkish Armed Forces in two phases. The initial phase was Sledgehammer/Ergenekon trials at 2007. Both cases were later sought to take over control of the Turkish Armed Forces. Sadly, the aftermath purge left Armed Forces at a crossroad to loose some of its top brass. Not only ultranationalists who were part of the planned coup, but also secular and western minded officers were purged at those times.Between those two phases the corruption scandal that surfaced on 17 December 2013 gave Erdogan a golden opportunity to “cleanse” police forces and legal bodies.
The second phase, on the other hand, started after a decision was made for perpetrating the notorious 15 July Coup attempt. This attempt was performed with affiliated extensions against Turkey’s center of gravity, Turkish Armed Forces, which has managed to keep Turkey in the Western liberal bloc and away from all kinds of adventures, especially in Syria and Iraq despite Erdogan’s megalomaniac ideas.
Another crucial point related to this flawless hybrid operation, which targets nothing other than Turkey’s survival is the skill shown in correct understanding sentiments of groups able to help effect intended results. In this sense, Erdogan’s egos and crimes, and ultranationalists hatred were very well organized to be merged against Gülenists who were declared as a common enemy. There was no mistake in phasing of the operation, determination of the targets of the phases and their timings.
Before the second phase that was targeted at Armed Forces, phase, the intent was to again cleanse “Police, Judiciary and Economy Bureaucracy”. When the Police-Judiciary-Economy bureaucracy caught Erdoğan red-handed, the historical opportunity emerged spontaneously. In return for forgiveness of the ultranationalists and the blessing of Perinçek, Perinçek and his team sometimes covertly and sometimes overtly supported Erdoğan, whose crimes were clearly known and archived by them, to purge the best cadres in the Police-Judiciary-Economy bureaucracy under the cover of being Gulenist.
Before the second phase, the purge was so deep in the second most critical public domain or “Judiciary” that the only ones that mattered belonged to the Perinçek’s team or were inexperienced young AKP militia who had attained office with unlawful administrative tricks not in conformity with the Constitution. Those latter were to be eliminated when necessary by the former group. The situation in the security bureaucracy, “Police”, became no different. With a nuance; while the dark Perinçek’s guys in the security bureaucracy were reinstated with praises, Erdogan succeeded in quickly filling the vacancy in the police with the ISIL/DAESH minded paramilitary groups that he had been trying to raise for years through the Ottoman organization, Menzil Group, SADAT and the likes. The men who carry out unbelievable tortures in the prisons and in the detainee centers at this moment are mostly members of these groups. As for the economy bureaucracy; firstly, bureaucrats of all independent audit institutions were replaced by those who obeyed without questioning, then, either these independent boards’ authorities were taken or were they terminated. Today, Turkish Central Bank has a President who lacks qualifications to fill his seat but has a proved allegiance to Erdogan. He has been instrumental in increasing or lowering interest rates when asked by Erdogan.
In the second part after 15th July; TAF was chosen as the target and actual attack was carried out by using the redesigned judiciary and Ergenekon-Balyoz remnants freed by a political decision implemented by the former. In this hybrid attack to the gravity center of Turkey, Russia utilized Perinçek’s extensions in the TAF and Turkey. With this attack deemed as “a blessing from God” by the so-called Commander-in-Chief of TAF, approximately 200 generals, many combat pilots and well-educated staff officers were dismissed, arrested or detained in a short period of time like 3 months without any confrontation. Even in an armed conflict losses would not come close to what has been witnessed so far. As opposed to the propaganda made by the government mouthpiece media, TAF has not been strengthened by purging traitors. But it has been weakened and the country has been made ready for an occupation or civil war.
Thousands of officers and non-commissioned officers were dismissed from the TAF after the July 15 coup attempt mainly through decrees having the effect of law published on July 27, July 30, September 2, and September 7. Yet this process, in which “footprints of horses and dogs have mingled” as Erdogan puts it, is not yet over. In the last period, this unlawful purge keeps on with the termination of assignments of the majority of the elite military officers who have been working in NATO and Military Diplomatic Missions abroad. Those officers were not even in Turkey on 15th of July. Most of them have been removed from the public service. How do these dismissals affect the TAF’s battle effectiveness? This question is especially important where the AKP government has pushed the country into the quagmire of Syria and Iraq in an effort to create a victory story deemed necessary for life-long presidency or dictatorship. Erdogan hopes to seem greater from the founding father M.K.Atatürk of the Nation with this last move by pretending to have made progress in attaining Mosul and Aleppo, two historical marks in Turks minds.
It is no secret that before the July 15 coup attempt, there was a strong resistance in the TAF, especially in the top echelons against AKP government’s aspirations to launch an operation in Syria. Since Turkey does not have effective missile defense and electronic systems, Syrian surface to surface missiles (SSM), which also can carry chemical warheads and surface to air missiles (SAM), posed a serious threat for Turkish Air Force and as such to the nation. In this respect, all decisive personnel who opposed to comply with the practices threatening national security have been declared traitor and eliminated so far. One of the most striking examples is as follows: Gen. Akın ÖZTÜRK was declared to be the Number One of the failed coup as propaganda and was later exonerated as was understood that he was actually trying to do exactly the opposite, to prevent it. His efforts to prevent the coup attempt was verified by Turkish General Staff announcements also. During one of his visits to War College in Istanbul he stated:”If I am declared traitor one day, you should know that Turkey has been involved in a conflict with Syria”.
For a better understanding, staff officers constitute the intellectual powerhouse of the Armed Forces. Selected after hardest exams and a detailed scrutiny into their social and familial lives and career paths, those officers belong to the best 10 percent of the TAF. Their main characteristic is their allegiance to the secular ideals of Atatürk, their belief in Western liberal ideals and their professionalism. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of those staff officers have been purged so far to leave only a fraction of them to fill critical posts in strategical Headquarters or the units in combat mission in Syria, Iraq and borderlines. If those in the last group die in an operation, they would be martyrs whereas their survival meant being labeled as terrorists. The seats of those purged are being filled with ultranationalists (the Perinçek team) and the ISIL/DAESH minded personnel (SADAT, Menzil teams). The common denominator of these new staff is their lack of higher military education, inexperience in working in multinational or operational/strategical HQs, inadequacy in language skills and articulating themselves, let alone to defend national interests. Those are behind wealth benefiting from this newly opened space rather than making a sacrifice for the nation. For better insight, just recently 15 officers resigned from a brigade that was assigned to move from Trakya to Gaziantep, a city close to Syrian border for possible future operations. The more dangerous threat emanating from these inadequate cadres would be that these two crazed groups would not tolerate each other and turn the country into hell with bloodshed.
The history of a century ago repeats itself today. The AKP administration, which plays the role of the Union and Progress Party (İttihat ve Terakki), together with the TAF cadres who are today’s Gen. Envers, are forcing TAF, which is worse off than the time of Sarikamis operation in terms of operational abilities and capabilities, to launch an operation in Iraq and Syria quagmire where US, UK and even Russia abstain from conducting a land operation. In addition to major problems such as ineffective intelligence system, lack of modern ammunition, inadequate air and missile defense and electronic war capabilities, which are indispensables of modern warfare, the “brain death” of the TAF has been realized with the liquidation of outstanding personnel.
The most serious status in this context has been reached in the Air Force, which is the indispensable force of today’s operations. The Turkish Air Force, which has been the leader in terms of operational effectiveness in the region before July 15, is incapacitated of trained personnel who are the most effective force multipliers. Because it is both a costly and a long-lasting process to train a combat ready pilot. As the Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş explained, the pilot seat ratio dropped to 0.8 in the Air Force where hundreds of fighter pilots were discharged of their services. On the other hand, this ratio dropped below 0.5 after this announcement as more than one hundred military pilots more were arrested. This ratio should be between 1.5 and 2.0 depending on the type of aircraft. While this means that there should be about twice as many pilots as the number of planes, the number of pilots in the Air Force dropped to less than half of the number of planes. Some of the remaining pilots, who have to go to police station for judicial control in the morning, fly the most destructive war machines during the night together with their ally colleagues for the Operation Euphrates Shield and operations in Mosul. Even some fighter pilots flying out of the country with official orders are banned from going abroad by judicial decisions, which exhibits this dilemma. Although it has been evaluated by Air Force Commander Abidin Ünal that having ideal cadre would take 2 years by shutting down this battle pilot’s opening, international security experts underlined in an assessment made on 19 September 2016 when there were 100 pilots more than today that it would take at least 10 years for the Air Force to have the ideal cadre structure of before July 15th.
It should be questioned how the TAF, especially the Turkish Air Force, can continue an operation even when the situation of personnel and ammunition before July 15 is taken into consideration when Turkey involves in a war in Syria. Moreover, the contribution of any operation with a “conquerer” approach to Turkey’s interests in Syria should be discussed. Nearly 200 generals and elite staff officers who were purged after 15 July formed the backbone of the Turkish General Staff and Force Commands, mainly headquarters. All in all, it is understood that the opposition to any such adventure in Syria insistingly formed a strong incentive for the purges of those.
In case of an adventure in Syria, the incapacitated TAF in terms of personnel status of after July 15th and the Air Force which is about to be depleted of modern ammunition, can only have limited operational effectiveness not to be sustained in the long-term. Moreover, the Air Force can barely fly fighter jets – even for air defense of the mainland territory – using pilots who are subject to judicial control. If we consider the possible loss rates in the event of an operation and the stock of modern ammunition that is about to be depleted, Turkey will soon become a nation not having an Air Force or at least a non-flying one.
The situation regarding purges is the same in the Navy as well. The purge of Admirals, Commodores and Ship Commanders and staff officers has been similar or even more intense than other force commands. However, the difference is hidden in by whom those vacant positions are filled.
The Naval Forces Command was the most prepared force for the failed coup and its aftermath. In the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt, Navy terminated assignments of 40-50 personnel from command group on the next day, July 16, 2016. Even more interestingly, those newly appointed to replace the former group started work in their new offices on July 17, 2016 Sunday morning. Normally known as the force command of the TAF having the most problematic bureaucracy, the Navy and the current Commander of the Navy acted so fast for replacements, which revealed that they had already known and made preparations long beforehand. At the moment, as Perinçek often proudly expressed in TV programs, the Naval Forces Command has been seized by Ergenekon-Balyoz residues (Perinçek team) in terms of both command and planners.
Army’s general purpose and attack helicopter pilots are at the forefront of the targeted groups in this purge as well. At least 20 attack helicopter pilots have been dismissed so far. The situation is even worse than this in the Special Forces Command, which is one of the most elite troops of the TAF. Special Forces Command, currently commanded by the Ergenekon-Balyoz residues, is rapidly returning back to its former covert activities.
The damage to the Army is not limited to this. Especially; Brigadier and Major Generals were almost completely purged and these cadres were filled with the Ergenekon-Balyoz residues (Perinçek team) and ISIL/DAESH minded personnel (SADAT, Menzil teams) after the Supreme Military Council meeting, which lasted for 30 minutes in 2016 (normally takes a week). The commanders of the 20 Brigades, who are now and will be in charge of the Syria and Iraq operations, are formed from these personnel and those who objected to these operations due to concerns for Turkey’s survival have been purged on this occasion.
Perhaps the most important one is that almost all of the generals and staff officers working in the Turkish General Staff and Land Forces Headquarters were dismissed. It is not difficult for the experts to know that the TAF (in patricular Army) has lost its planning ability and the chain of command has been filled with cliques having different motivations.
With this ongoing purge, Army has been deprived of the professional human resources required even for the struggle with the PKK terror inside the borders of the country, let alone plan, execute and manage results of a cross-border operation against a state and It has been pushed into Iraq-Syria ring with tied hands and eyes.