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Turkey replaces top military chiefs in leadership reshuffle

The decision from the nation’s top armed forces body marked another step in the growing control of the government over the once all-powerful Turkish armed forces.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2017 22:11 IST
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (C) chairing the Turkish Supreme Military Council meeting at Cankaya Palace in Ankara on Wednesday.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (C) chairing the Turkish Supreme Military Council meeting at Cankaya Palace in Ankara on Wednesday.(AFP photo)

Turkey on Wednesday replaced the land, air and naval commanders of the military, in a major shake-up of the armed forces just over a year after a failed coup bid.

The decision from the nation’s top armed forces body - now dominated by ministers rather than the military - marked another step in the growing control of the government over the once all-powerful Turkish armed forces.

The Supreme Military Council (YAS) decided to remove land forces commander General Salih Zeki Colak, naval chief Admiral Bulent Bostanoglu and air force commander General Abidin Unal, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

Colak will be replaced by General Yasar Guler, currently head of the gendarmerie and former deputy chief of staff, Kalin told reporters in Ankara.

Bostanoglu will be replaced by Vice Admiral Adnan Ozbal and General Hasan Kucukakyuz would replace Unal as air force commander, he said.

Their new roles start on August 30, Kalin added. Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar is however to stay in his job.

Kalin, the presidential spokesman, did not elaborate on the reasoning for their exit, but thanked the men for their service.

The decision to replace the commanders also received the necessary go-ahead from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the spokesman said.

The council usually meets only once a year but this is the third meeting since the July 15, 2016 coup bid blamed on the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. He denies the charges.

The government upped the civilian component of the council following the failed coup, giving more place to government ministers than military figures.

‘Fight against terror’

The decision comes with the army still fighting an insurrection by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast of Turkey that in recent years has claimed the lives of hundreds of members of the security forces.

It also waged a long campaign inside Syria to oust Kurdish militia and jihadists from the border area.

“The biggest threat to our fight against terror is ongoing instability, lack of authority and civil war in countries on our southern border,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the meeting.

Previously, such meetings were held at military headquarters but are now hosted by the prime minister.

Under Erdogan, the political influence of the once all-powerful military responsible for overthrowing governments four times since 1960 has been weakened, especially since the coup attempt.

An emergency decree last year ruled deputy prime ministers as well as justice, foreign and interior ministers could join the council.

Following the attempted putsch, the government discharged 149 generals, almost half of the military’s entire contingent at the time of 358.

Almost 8,000 people from the Turkish armed forces have been sacked over alleged links to the Gulen movement under the state of emergency imposed after the coup bid.

Over 4,800 were from the land forces, state media reported last month.

Hundreds more personnel have been suspended in a military shaken by the unprecedented purge which has affected most of the Turkish public sector including education.

Fresh blood

Guler, the incoming land forces commander, was abducted and held for several hours with the Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar and other military figures on the night of the attempted overthrow.

Some Turkish media speculated over whether Guler would take over from Akar, including opposition daily Cumhuriyet which said there was “no obstacle” left in front of Guler to become chief of staff.

But Akar now appears set to stay in his job until at least 2019.

Injecting fresh blood into the top brass, the council promoted 61 colonels to admiral or general status while another six generals and admirals were given top rank status from August 30 onwards, Kalin said.

Other decisions the council made include extending eight generals’ terms by a year while 168 colonels had theirs lengthened by two years, the defence ministry said in a statement on its website.