Analysts: Wide scale detentions could harm Turkey’s military capabilities

The arrest of 133 military figures in connection with the 2016 failed coup has left the country with personnel shortage for key weapons systems.

Turkish and Russian military vehicles return following a joint patrol in northeast Syria, as they are pictured near the Turkish border town of Kiziltepe in Mardin province, Turkey, November 1, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)
Turkish and Russian military vehicles return following a joint patrol in northeast Syria, as they are pictured near the Turkish border town of Kiziltepe in Mardin province, Turkey, November 1, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)
The Turkish state news agency reported on Tuesday that further military personnel had been dismissed in the latest purge since a 2016 failed coup, a trend that analysts say will likely further hurt the country’s military.
The Anadolu Agency reported that according to the prosecutor in the southwestern city of Izmir, arrest warrants had been issued for 133 people in the military over accusations linking them to cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Ankara claims that Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, masterminded the deadly coup attempt. The refusal by the United States to extradite him back to Turkey has been a key obstacle to better relations between the two countries.
The news agency reported three colonels, five majors and five captains among the military personnel.
The latest detentions follow a string of mass arrests carried out since the failed putsch. Over 77,000 people have been put behind bars, and about 150,000 people have lost their jobs or been suspended, according to the Reuters news agency.
Critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan say he has used the attempted coup as an excuse to stifle dissent, but Ankara insists it is taking necessary steps to deal with major security concerns.
“We don’t know what kind of credible evidence there is, or there ever was in the first place,” Kristian Brakel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, told The Media Line. “It’s really hard to know if these new arrests are based on solid ground.”
Is this weakening the Turkish military?
“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “That’s something we’ve seen since 2016.”
Brakel told The Media Line that one clear example was the inability of the air force to use all its F-16 fighter jets because there were not enough trained pilots. He also raised concerns about whether those detained would be given process, especially in cases where the government puts pressure on the judiciary.
“Chances for a fair trial in Turkey are relatively low,” he said, although the government insists that the judiciary remains independent.
Simon Waldman, an Istanbul-based analyst and visiting fellow in Middle East studies at London’s King’s College, said the legitimacy of some of the charges remains ambiguous because the evidence is normally flimsy or inaccessible to the public.
“This is the new normal in Turkey,” he told The Media Line. “It seems that it can happen at any time, and the details of these things aren’t made open to the public.”
He agreed that the detentions would undoubtedly hurt Turkey’s military capabilities. “I don’t see how you can have sporadic arrests of officers without it hurting morale of the officer class,” Waldman said. “[Officers] don’t necessarily know if they could be next. That has to hurt morale, and also … operational capacity.”
Waldman believes it could take decades to rebuild morale.
He added that the loss of personnel could also hurt Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts, pointing to terrorist attacks in 2016 and 2017.
“When it’s something like counterterrorism, you need assets,” he said, referring to Military Intelligence.
The detentions come at a difficult time for Turkey’s security. The country launched an incursion into Syria on October 9 against Kurdish fighters that Ankara says are connected to terrorists within Turkey.
Timothy Ash, a London-based economist focusing on Turkey, agrees that Turkey’s military has likely been hurt.
“The surprise – a bit, I guess – is that given all the challenges of the Turkish military in Syria, they’d feel the urgency to do something now,” he told The Media Line Brakel added that the negative repercussions from the arrests are felt throughout the nation.
“The country is still driven by an atmosphere of paranoia,” he said. “The coup shook Erdoğan and his supporters [to] their core, and they still feel like someone has to pay.”


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