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Turkish military lacks qualified officers

NATO, Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Erdoğan, Wilson Center, Turkey-NATO relations

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Turkish military lacks qualified officers

According to unwritten practice in the Turkish military, colonels who are staff officers, i.e., officers who graduated from the prestigious War Academies, which only accept candidates who pass a difficult entrance exam, were normally promoted to the rank of general. These staff colonels used to speak at least one foreign language, have master’s degrees in non-military fields and were specially trained in war strategies, military tactics and troop management. Writes Levent Kenez

Officers promoted to the rank of general in NATO’s second-largest army are relatively less educated and less qualified than their colleagues in previous years, particularly before 2016, a survey conducted by Nordic Monitor has revealed.

According to unwritten practice in the Turkish military, colonels who are staff officers, i.e., officers who graduated from the prestigious War Academies, which only accept candidates who pass a difficult entrance exam, were normally promoted to the rank of general. These staff colonels used to speak at least one foreign language, have master’s degrees in non-military fields and were specially trained in war strategies, military tactics and troop management. They were usually assigned to overseas missions, especially in NATO, and military attachés were selected from among them.

Following an abortive coup in July 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates in the government removed nearly all flag officers, leaving only a small fraction on active duty while allowing Islamists and neo-nationalists to quickly move up in the ranks. A previous Nordic Monitor study showed that more generals and admirals were pushed out of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) than what the government led the public to believe in the aftermath of the failed coup on July 15, 2016, under the pretext of criminal prosecutions, administrative dismissals, early retirements and forced resignations.

According to the official account, 8,651 military members took part in the coup, corresponding to only 1.5 percent of the TSK. Of those 1,761 were conscripts and 1,214 were military cadets. Given the fact that around 150 generals and thousands of officers were tried on coup charges, military experts find it odd that such an insignificant number of troops took part in the coup attempt.

Purged generals who were convicted and received lengthy prison sentences or are still standing trial are accused of alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which the Erdoğan government accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt. The movement strongly denies any role in the failed coup, and the government has failed to present any evidence of the movement’s complicity in the putschist attempt. Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, in February 2018 said many of the generals dismissed by the Turkish government were pro-NATO and pro-American, foreseeing a possible shift in Turkey-NATO relations.

A total of 1,119 of the 1,894 staff officers who were on duty on July 15, 2016 were dismissed following the coup attempt. According to the decisions of the Supreme Military Council between 2016 and 2021, very few of the officers that the Erdoğan government promoted to the rank of general were staff officers.

For instance, the Supreme Military Council this week decided to promote 56 colonels to the rank of general, only 10 of whom are staff officers, i.e., graduates of the War Academies. Only six of the 37 colonels who became generals in the Land Forces this year are staff officers. While four of the eight captains promoted in the Naval Forces are staff officers, none of the 11 colonels promoted in the Air Force were.

The same was the case last year. Only five of the 32 colonels who became generals in the Land Forces were staff officers, and only one out of 10 in the Air Force. The Navy was an exception, where six of the nine captains promoted were chosen from among staff officers.

During the promotions made in 2019, only two of the 23 Land Forces colonels were staff officers. The situation in the Air Force was again against the staff officers, with none of the six colonels who were promoted to general being staff. The navy was again an exception, seven out of four in favor of staff officers.

While there were 41 colonels in the entire military in 2018, only 13 of them were staff officers. The staff rate in 2017 appointments was almost half, 32-31.

Until 2016, only two non-staff officers were traditionally promoted to general in the Land Forces every year. However, in the Air and Naval Forces, almost every officer who was allowed to become a general was staff officer.

As non-staff officers rapidly become generals, the Turkish military will soon face a new situation. According to the Turkish Armed Forces Personnel Law, a major general must have received training at the War Academies to become a lieutenant general and ultimately a full general, which means that an officer who is not a staff officer cannot become the chief of general staff. So the Turkish military may not be able to find a top officer to promote to chief of general staff in the near future, or the law will have to be changed.

After the coup attempt in 2016, the government also changed the procedure in which staff officers were selected, which it saw as a threat. Firstly, the War Academies were closed and a new faculty was established at the newly opened National Defense University under the name of the Joint War Institute. A new examination system has been introduced in which the government decide who can be a staff officer. Officers in the ranks from first lieutenant to lieutenant colonel are now able to take the staff exam, which was previously only available to first lieutenants and captains. Candidates who have the chance to become staff members will take part in distance learning in the first stage by the National Defense University. Those who pass the final exams will be accepted to staff officer training in two different seasons.

Republished from the Nordic Monitor

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