While the bloody plot saw more than 15,000 people kicked out of the military, Turkey’s Armed Forces have managed to conduct numerous cross border operations and has gone from strength to strength.
Turkish Armed Forces were gravely affected from the July 15, 2016, coup attempt. In the aftermath of the bloody coup plot, more than 15,000 personnel were kicked out from the military. Among them were hundreds of high-ranking officers including 150 generals and admirals.
All these developments happened at a time when Turkey faced multiple threats to its security. The Syrian civil war and the instability in Iraq posed various risks along Turkey’s southern border.
Daesh still controlled large swaths of land in both of these countries. Even Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, was under Daesh control. The PKK, another major threat to Turkey, was able to expand itself from Iraq to Northern Syria filling the gap that arose from the Syrian civil war. In such an atmosphere, contrary to popular belief, the Turkish Armed Forces were able to revive themselves. With the outstanding effort of its officials, the military quickly restructured itself to overcome the adverse effects of the staff shortage.
The Army, the backbone of the Turkish military, with its fight against the PKK and the beyond-border operations in Syria against Daesh and PKK’s Syrian offshoot PYD/YPG, showed that it was a robust and deterrent force. Merely 40 days after the coup attempt, on August 24, 2016, Turkey started Operation Euphrates Shield. The objective of the operation was to clean Turkey’s borders from the Daesh threat. The Turkish Army, with its ally the Free Syrian Army, cleaned a roughly 100 km stretch of Turkey’s border of Daesh, which culminated to an area of more than 2,000 square km.
Strategic towns such as Jarabulus and Al Bab were captured from the Daesh. Moreover, with this operation, Turkey succeeded in preventing a potential merge of the PYD/YPG-held Afrin region in northwest Syria with the terrorist organisation’s Syrian strongholds in northeast Syria. This move eliminated a threat of PYD/YPG control along the whole 900km Turkey-Syria border. Turkey’s second cross border operation to Syria commenced one and a half year after Euphrates Shield. Operation Olive Branch, which started on January 20, 2018, aimed to clean Turkey’s borders and the Afrin region of the PYD/YPG threat.
The terrorist organisation’s presence in the region posed serious risks to Turkey’s security. On many occasions, the PYD/YPG used the region to infiltrate Turkey. Afrin was also used by the terrorist organisation for recruitment and training purposes as well as a logistical base. With the success of the Operation Olive Branch, Turkey eliminated these threats and he possibility of PYD/YPG reaching the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to Operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, the Turkish Army is also conducting cross border operations with the help of the Air Force against the PKK bases in the Northern Iraq to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Turkey.
Furthermore, in this period Turkey opened its biggest overseas military base in Somalia. Another base was also established in Qatar. Few countries operate overseas bases around the globe. Operating them requires top-notch administration, operational capabilities and coordination among forces. These Turkish bases are significant achievements for the Turkish military which shows that the Army is still a powerful force that is able to protect Turkey’s interests both inside and outside of the country.
At a press conference in October 2018, Minister of National Security Hulusi Akar stated that operations against the FETO-members in the military strengthened the Turkish Armed Forces rather than weakening them. Akar also said that nearly two years after the coup attempt, the naval and air forces were able to expand their operational capabilities compared to the pre-July 15 eras. The Navy showed its full strength for the first time after the coup attempt during the Sea Wolf military exercise on May 2019. The largest exercise of the Turkish military, which ran simultaneously in three seas with 131 warships, 57 planes and 33 helicopters, came at a time of high tension in East Mediterranean.
The exercise aimed to show the Armed Forces’ will be able to safeguard Turkey’s interests in Cyprus and East Mediterranean which are considered a strategic priority by Ankara. All these cross border operations, overseas military bases and naval operations have demonstrated that the Turkish Armed Forces, NATO’s second-largest military, still preserves its ability to protect the country against the security threats despite the setbacks of the July 15 coup attempt.