Turkish Marine Forces parade on the Bosporus marking Victory Day. Marine operations, including on the internal Sea of Marmara, between the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, will be a focal point of Turkish special forces operations. (Bulent Kilic / AFP)
ANKARA — Increasing regional challenges and wider foreign policy goals, including in Africa, are forcing the Turkish government to reinforce its special operations capabilities by procuring new gear and launching a new administrative system.
The Turks now hope to double operational gains by operating two different units: military and intelligence. Despite much criticism at home and abroad, the Turkish government recently passed a law that authorizes intelligence officers to conduct special operations abroad and grants them a de facto legal immunity.
“Turkey’s strategic position also gained a different dimension with developments in the Middle East, as well as the opening to the Balkans, Africa and the Far East. Debates then started about the structure of the MIT [the national intelligence agency],” said Cevat Ones, a former deputy intelligence chief. “It had been focused on internal security, but with the debates about Turkey becoming a global actor and a regional power, the MIT needed a new mentality for its mission and authority.”
The “Law Amending the Law on State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Agency” was approved by Parliament on April 17 and entered into force on April 26 after being signed by President Abdullah Gul. It amends a 1983 law defining the activities of MIT.
The new law also permits the agency to “collect data relating to external intelligence, national defense, terrorism, international crimes and cybersecurity passing via telecommunication channels” without specifying the need for a court order.
With the authorization of the agency head or deputy heads, the law allows the intelligence agency to intercept calls overseas, and calls by foreigners and pay phones, and analyze and store the data.
“Apparently the Turks think they need two units for special operations to advance their foreign policy ambitions,” one London-based Turkey specialist said. “We understand that there is going to be a mechanism for the division of labor. I think the military units will conduct relatively conventional operations and the intel officers will do the less conventional work. This may mean a degree of shift of operations from the military to the intelligence.”
An industry source said this will require coordination of procurement between the two different units.
“There must be a mechanism to prevent overlapping requirements,” he said. “But clearly we expect a visible increase in these requirements, both for the military and the intelligence. New ambitions mean new operations and new operations mean gear.”
A procurement official said his office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), is in charge of procurement for both units.
“We have a careful understanding of separating between the requirements of the military and MIT. Centralizing acquisitions through SSM will prevent overlapping requirements,” he said.
The official would not comment on the type of equipment and systems Turkey would buy in the near future for special operations, citing a top secrecy clause.
The London-based Turkey specialist said operations by sea would gain prominence in the near future, hence an expected increase in the acquisitions of marine gear.
“Most geographies Turkey has political ambitions on are most suitable for sea operations,” the specialist said. “To begin with, Turkey in the years to come will need scores of special operations boats, for assault, or even quiet boats.”
A second procurement official confirmed that marine-related purchases could gain pace as well as modern uniforms and support gadgets suitable for special operations, both military and intel-related.
“All kinds of boats would come in high demand, for sure,” he said.
One naval program in particular will have a special operations angle, according to a military officer.
“A substantial part of the troops deployed on our first LPD [landing platform dock] will be a special operations unit,” he said.
Last December, Turkey selected a local shipyard to award the country’s first contract for the acquisition of an LPD which, according to industry sources, will come with a price tag of nearly $1 billion.
Sedef Gemi Insaati, a privately owned Istanbul shipyard, will partner with Spain’s Navantia for the program.
Turkey is bordered by the Black Sea in the north, the Mediterranean in the south and the Aegean in the west. In the northwest there is also an internal sea, the Sea of Marmara, between the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, important waterways that connect the Black Sea with the rest of the world. The Turkish coastline is 4,474 miles, excluding islands.
Turkey has long aimed to bolster its amphibious vessel fleet. The LPD program is designed to deploy a battalion-sized force of up to 1,000 troops and personnel, eight utility helicopters, three UAVs, 13 tanks and 81 armored vehicles to crisis zones in the three seas near Turkey. ■