Inside a failed coup and Turkey’s fragmented military

Aaron Stein writes: The recent coup attempt in Turkey revealed profound political cleavages in the Turkish armed forces. The coup pitted a minority — but nevertheless significant — faction of the Turkish military against the majority of the country’s armed forces, which remained loyal to their commander in chief, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The coup nearly succeeded in achieving what, in retrospect, appears to have been its primary objective: the killing or capture of Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, and Hakan Fidan, the chief of the country’s intelligence agency, MIT. The plotters, using a number of well-placed insiders, did manage to take the chief of the general staff, Hulusi Akar, hostage. The clashes resulted in 240 deaths. Turkish government officials allege that the plot was hatched by followers of Fetullah Gulen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric, currently living in Pennsylvania.

The following account remains incomplete and relies on a Whatsapp conversation between some of the coup plotters, open source data, compiled by blogs like The Aviationist, as well as discussions I have had with Turkey based journalists and colleagues, all whom prefer to remain anonymous. I relied on pro-government sources, including state-owned and government aligned media outlets, but sought to compensate for their biases in my analysis. The complete story has yet to be told and all of the details have yet to be released publicly.

The story of the coup suggests a relatively large plot that drew support from numerous parts of the Turkish Armed Forces, spanning various commands around Turkey. The number of senior officers involved, including the commander of Incirlik air force base where U.S. aircraft are now based for the fight against the Islamic State, suggest that the Turkish military is divided. The narrative following the coup is that this was a small, ill-conceived group of plotters who failed to overthrow the elected government, but this narrative is at odds with information coming out about the extent of the plot. This was a larger and far more credible attempt than has thus far been reported.

The fact that this was relatively well planned — if hastily implemented — coup attempt has several implications — namely that the Turkish military’s senior leadership is deeply factionalized, with one sizeable minority of officers willing to use force, even though their decision risked civil war. This suggests that Turkey is unstable and faces serious challenges in the near term in ways that will surely impact American and Western security interests in the Middle East and Europe. [Continue reading…]

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