ANKARA — Numerous security and procurement challenges have welcomed Turkey's new military top brass, including renewed violence with the country's restive Kurds after a two-year cease-fire, and potentially could increase the military's influence over procurement programs.
Turkey's Supreme Military Council, chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, convened Aug. 3-5 to decide on its annual military reshuffle and promotions.
Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 parliamentary elections ended the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002. Since then, the AKP has conducted since then has been in unsuccessful coalition talks with the opposition and renewed parliamentary elections in November are highly likely.
Shortly before the reshuffle a fragile, two-year cease-fire with Kurdish militants fighting for autonomy or self-rule in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast was broken. Violence resumed after a radical Islamist suicide bomber killed 33 pro-Kurdish activists July 20 in a Turkish town bordering Syria.
Hundreds of people since have been killed or injured in clashes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish security forces. Turkish fighters have bombed PKK strongholds in northern Iraq. The military has claimed its raids have killed 260 PKK militants.
After the July 20 attack Turkey also bombed targets in Syria belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the radical Islamist group that since last summer has captured large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, both neighboring Turkey. Turkey also has agreed to allow the US military to use a strategic air base in southern Turkey to attack ISIS targets inside Syria.
"The new command structure has found itself in multiple wars, both against the PKK, ISIS and potentially other jihadist groups that may counterattack Turkey both from Syria and inside Turkey," said one London-based security analyst.
"The generals also will have to do a lot of balancing act in their relations with a new government. They don’t even know whether they will work with an AKP minister [of defense] or someone from a potential coalition partner," he said.
An Ankara-based analyst said that another challenge will be the military’s involvement in Turkey's ambitious indigenous programs, including a new-generation tank, drones, helicopters and even a fighter jet.
"A weakened government will mean a bigger military say in most of these programs," he said.
A political analyst here agrees.
"Facing multiple threats the government fears losing votes due to daily loss of human lives and it needs the military to help counter these threats more than ever," he said. "In return, the government may have to compromise to the generals in administering procurement programs."
But officials said the indigenous programs will not face radical changes like suspension or total restructuring.
"The new top brass comprises commanders who are very keen on ongoing programs," said one procurement official. "No one should expect a major change of direction in any of them."
Turkey’s top commander, chief of the General Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel, has retired and . Land Forces Commander Gen. Hulusi Akar has taken took over from Ozel.
Gen. Salih Zeki Colak, commander of the 1st Army, was appointed Land Forces commander and Gen. Galip Mendi, commander of the Aegean Army, became the commander of the gendarmerie force.
Navy Commander Adm. Bulent Bostanoglu was given a one-year extension in his office and Air Gen.eral Abidin Unal, commander of the combat Air Force unit, became the new Air Force commander.
In October 2012, the government introduced a set of rules to regulate procurement and broaden the jurisdiction and administrative powers of the civilian procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).
Under the new rules, a program takes off when a military request for a weapon system is approved and proposed by the SSM and approved also by the defense minister. The SSM is solely responsible for determining the ideal modality for every procurement program. It also has powers to buy sole-source when it deems necessary due to "national interest, confidentiality, monopoly of technological capabilities and meeting urgent requirements."