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Kara Kuvvetleri Komutan
Turkish Land Forces - Capabilities

Currently, the Turkish army is the best army in the Middle East. At a short notice, Turkish Army can deploy an Army Corps of 40,000 (forty thousand) or 50,000 (fifty thousand) troops to conduct joint operations. It can deploy a force consisting of six battalions to distant targets in a very short time by day and night air-landed operations. Turkish Armed Forces can simultaneously conduct four separate Peace Support Operations via its Battalion Task Force throughout the world.

Until the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1990, the army had a static defense mission of countering Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in the Caucasus and any possible attack on Thrace. When the General Staff attempted to shift 120,000 troops to the frontier with Iraq in 1990, they discovered that there were serious deficiencies in the army's ability to respond to crises that could erupt suddenly in distant regions. The army was even less prepared for a situation requiring the deployment and logistical support of forces in operations beyond Turkey's borders.

While the Turkish Army is known as the second largest force in NATO, Russian political analyst Evgeni Krutikov suggested that it resembles nothing so much as a "paper tiger." The analyst noted that in the wake of the attempted military coup in July 2016 the country's army could be considerably weakened.

Although Turkey's army is the second largest force in NATO with its 750,000-strong military contingent, it is not as powerful as it seems, Russian journalist and political analyst Evgeni Krutikov noted 27 July 2016. "The attempted coup [in Turkey], the war in Syria, the Karabakh turmoil and the Russian Su-24 tragedy attracted a lot of interest to the Turkish army. This army is looking very impressive, but only at first sight: it has had more problems and failure than success," Krutikov wrote in his article for online newspaper Vzglyad.

The political analyst called attention to the fact that the Turkish army was formed "chaotically," depending much on economic and political conditions. Krutikov underscored that for a long period of time Ankara had regarded Greece as Turkey's major rival, regardless of the fact that both Turkey and Greece are NATO member states. Given this, it is hardly surprising that a major part of Turkey's military force is concentrated on the country's western border. Whatever happens in Syria and Turkey's Kurdish regions, the traditional balance of forces remains intact, according to the journalist.

Taking a walk down memory lane, Krutikov insisted that during the Cold War the Turkish army had not boasted any major military success except its invasion of the island country of Cyprus in 1974. Still, the Turkish army defeated the Cyrpriots mostly because of numerical superiority, according to the journalist. In general, there were a lot of flaws in Turkey's military operation: for instance, a maritime battle near Paphos where the Turkish air force attacked its own navy.

The Turkish Army underwent significant changes in the 1990s under Tansu Ciller, Turkey's prime minister. Ciller re-equipped and transformed the Turkish Army into a modern fighting force capable of dealing with domestic challenges, including those posed by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). It is worth mentioning that it was Ciller who persuaded Washington to designate the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization. At the same time, Tansu Ciller turned a blind eye to the emergence of radical nationalist parties in Turkey, most notably Grey Wolves, and had no scruples about using them as a tool in Turkey's confrontation with the Kurds and Armenians.

Despite the modernization initiated by Ciller there were still gaps in the Turkish Army's defense capabilities in the early 2000s. However, although then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to strengthen the nation's armed forces and equip the army with modern weapons, his vows often turned out to be a hot air.

The average Turkish soldier was well-motivated, nationalistic in orientation, and imbued with the legacy of the tenacious combat achievements of Ataturk, a highly decorated officer of World War I who is the father of modern Turkey. Since World War II Turkey had played a major role as a steady ally of the United States, serving as the linchpin of the southern flank of NATO during the Cold War. Turkey proudly provided a superbly trained and motivated combat regiment to the United Nations forces in Korea. It also played a signi?cant support role in the United Nations victory in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, and provided the base support for UN Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq. Turkey volunteered to provide a mechanized task force to Somalia — including the overall UN commander. A Turkish reinforced mechanized battalion deployed in support of UN operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Through these actions and other NATO missions, the TLFC proved a loyal and willing partner.

By the mid-1990s underlying problems existed in doctrine, training, and logistics that affected the TLFC's combat readiness. TLFC lacked an integrated, strategic doctrine upon which to base force structure changes and training programs. Unit training was not focused on mission essential tasks, lacked realism, and was not conducted in a combined arms / joint environment. The need for an increased training OPTEMPO (operational tempo) to gain and maintain proficiency on new systems had not been fully implemented. The short period of mandatory service for conscripts, which formed the bulk of theforce, inhibited development of weapon system crew pro?ciency, a problem aggravated by the complexity of the newly acquired weapon systems. The lack of planning and funding, particularly the latter, led to shortfalls in acquiring needed ammunition and repair parts. Until these issues were adequately addressed, the advantages in combat capability offered by new hardware would not be fully realized.

TLFC capabilities for training individuals and conducting small unit light infantry training are generally good. Branch schools provide appropriate instruction in basic skills for junior officers and soldiers; graduates are knowledgeable and capable. The technical NCO program, designed to provide up to 5,000 graduates each year, fills the rapidly growing need for better quali?ed leaders to operate and maintain the more sophisticated equipment TLFC has acquired. This is necessary because the average conscript was not in service long enough to acquire the requisite skills.

Training in light infantry tactics, a TLFC mainstay before its transition began, is well understood and executed. In the 1990s training capabilities in combined arms and joint operations were initially weak, however. The lack of a capstone doctrine (i.e., a set of principles for the assignment of wartime missions to combat units), plus the lack of combat maneuver training centers and training simulation systems, contributed to somewhat weak unit sustainment training, particularly for the newer mechanized infantry and armor units. TLFC units did not routinely conduct combined arms training. Joint training exercises between TLFC and the other Turkish armed forces were not often conducted. Integration of combat functions was also not fully implemented. The lack of approved, disseminated doctrine that was tailored to the threat, missions, and force structure of the TLFC, was a liability.

By the end of 2016 the Turkish army was engaged in a two-front war, fighting both in Turkey and Syria against PKK Kurdish rebels. With a third front possibly looming, questions were raised about how sustainable such operations might be, given the military is still reeling from massive purges within its ranks following the July 2016 failed coup in Turkey. Since the collapse of the 2015 cease-fire with the PKK, the military has launched unparalleled numbers of counterinsurgency operations across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. The operations turned many towns and cities into rubble in vicious street warfare with the rebels. Further demands on the army came with an ongoing military incursion into Syria, targeting both Islamic State, and Syrian Kurdish forces of the YPG that Ankara accuses of being the affiliate of the PKK. Turkey considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also dispatched soldiers and armor to the Iraqi border to deter what he says are threats to Iraq’s Sunni minority. The prospect of an unprecedented third front is a front too many. “No army including the American army can deal with so many conflicts or fronts at the same time,” warns Retired Brigadier Haldun Solmazturk, head of the Ankara-based research group 21st Century Institute. “There will be two outcomes - one, the slowing of the operational tempo and the other is the increase in the causality rates. And in Syria, both are happening and I don't see any reason that an intervention in Iraq would end up any different. And the situation is less than favorable for the army because army has been suffering from various blows, I mean purges, for the last 10 to 15 years.”

Since the July 2016 failed coup, the military had been hit by a succession of major purges within its ranks. Nearly half its senior commanders had been arrested or dismissed, while its army special forces and air force have been hit especially hard. Over 300 of its 600 combat pilots have been arrested or dismissed.

Maintaining morale could be the next challenge facing the country’s commanders and political leaders, in the face of the ongoing purges both within the army and wider society. General Solmazturk, warned of an approaching perfect storm. “The recent government decisions to close military schools, to close army academies, to close army hospitals, and the general political situation in the country. Army people are individuals; they are in uniform, but they are Turkish citizens, they are human beings. They are happening as I am, with the media situation in turkey, with the suppression of rights, with the suppression of freedoms, coming together are having a detrimental effect on morale and operational capability of the Turkish army.”

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Page last modified: 20-11-2016 17:05:26 ZULU