Syria: The first test of Turkey’s new commanders

Syria: The first test of Turkey’s new commanders

The latest Supreme Military Board (YAŞ) meeting determined the new commanders of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). The land, naval and air force commanders were reshuffled. Even if it is not included under the structure of YAŞ, the Gendarmerie commander is also changing as a natural result.

I had written that the fight against both the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) shaped the decisions when the promotions within YAŞ were reviewed on Friday.

Objections from some commanders

There were objections to the appointments from some commanders. They drew attention to the fact that some generals who resisted against the coup soldiers on the night of July 15 were retired.

When I looked at the list of generals and admirals, I saw names of those like Major General Mehmet Okkan, who was appointed head of the department of the Chief of Staff operations by Defense Minister Fikri Işık after the July 15 coup attempt, who had resisted against the coup attempt and had been victims of plot cases in the past.

While expecting him to become the naval commander, Admiral Veysel Kösele was retired and had refuted claims that he did not provide a sufficient struggle against FETÖ. A retired admiral who knows Kösele had defended him in an electronic message saying Kösele had fought against FETÖ during his admiralty.

The hint in Erdoğan’s speech

The YAŞ decisions became clear and were left behind. Now, we need to look at what the government expects from the generals who have been appointed to the military command ships.

While I had written in the title that Syria would be the first test of the new commanders, I started out by writing about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks in Malatya.

Let’s remember what Erdoğan said in Malatya:

“We are determined to expand the dagger we stabbed in the heart of the terror foundation project in Syria with the Euphrates Shield Operation by utilizing new moves. We will have new and important steps on this issue soon. It is now obvious that the issue in Syria goes well beyond the boundaries of the fight against a terror organization,” he said.

When the president says the issue in Syria goes well beyond the fight against a terror organization, he is referring to plans by Russia and the United States for Syria’s future.

Both countries are opening a new base on Syrian soil with every passing day and they envisage autonomous regions for Kurds in their Syria draft law. The Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) are cracking the door open on their aim to change the population structure in the future by evacuating residential areas they had taken.

Guns not silenced

The Euphrates Shield operation had prevented the YPG from capturing the 2,000-square kilometer area between Kobani and Afrin. It also brought stability to the region. (It is possible to understand this from the backward migration numbers in that region.)

After that, a cease-fire had emerged from the Astana meetings pioneered by Turkey and Russia.

Nonetheless, clashes between both the Syrian army and the armed opposition groups did not settle down.
Take a look at what happened in the last 24 hours.

Ebu Muhammed el Şami, one of the commanders of the Hayat Tahrir el-Şam (HTŞ) in the south of Hatay, was assassinated in Idlib.

Turkey gave armed vehicles and motorbikes to the Free Syrian Police, who provide security between Turkey and the Azaz-Jarablus border line.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights announced that the Syrian army had captured Sukhnah, the last residential area in Homs under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The YPG fired rockets to residential areas in Marea and the Free Syrian Army retaliated. Heavy clashes erupted between the YPG and FSA.

A military option?

I asked soldiers and diplomats about the “new moves” that the president mentioned. They said they had never heard about it and the issue had not been mentioned. They had really either only heard about it for the first time or they did not want to reveal the steps that would be taken.

Considering the mobility of both the FSA and the opposition fighting against the Syrian Army, it might have been set as an aim for the “Syrian opposition” to have a say in Manbij along with Afrin.

It is hard to achieve such a goal at the diplomacy desk in Astana or Geneva. For that reason, the only option that comes to mind is the military option.

That is why the first and most important test of the TSK’s new commanders will be about goals that the political will would put forward on the Syria issue.