The critical moment that changed the tide in the July 15 air wars

The critical moment that changed the tide in the July 15 air wars

Air Forces Secretary General Staff Colonel Veysel Kavak is talking to Brigadier General Kemal Mutlum, the head of Air Defense and Command.

VK: Do you need someone?

KM: No, we are locked up in here.

Kemal Mutlum, who is among the leading cadre of the coup attempt has locked himself up.

After entering the Air Force Operation Center (AFOC) he took this precaution to secure himself and the 12 person team he headed, from outside intervention.

The head of the systems department, Brigadier General Recep Sami Özatak is also with him.

The importance of AFOC is the fact that it is at the top of the hierarchy among the two operation centers, which have the authority of the chain of command over all of the military flights over Turkish airspace.

The other one, is the one in Eskişehir, known by its (Turkish) acronym BHHM (United Air Operation Center).

According to the game plan, the coup plotters were to execute their control over the Turkish airspace from AFOC. 

On the night of the coup attempt, Mutlum called the operations commander of the Diyarbakır Air Base at 11:03 p.m., Staff Colonel Özkan Edip Akgülay.

Akgülay recounted that conversation in his testimony at the prosecutor’s office as such:

“Kemal Mutlum called me and asked me to send the Special Forces Unit in my platoon with two cargo planes to Ankara. I told him that I did not have the authority on such an issue and that they had to speak with the [BHHM] center in Eskişehir. Then, Brigadier General Recep Sami Özatak, whom I believe to have recognized from his voice, took the phone. “Akgülay, you will listen to us. You will execute our orders,” he said.

At 11:14 p.m., Air Force Secretary General Veysel Kavak called and repeated the order to send the Special Forces Unit to Ankara with a cargo plane. He told me I was making a mistake and that I should obey the air force.

The two cargo planes were to carry Brigadier General Semih Terzi and his team of 100 soldiers to Ankara.
At 11:47 p.m., Terzi himself called Akgülay and said to him while asking him to open the runway: “Idiot, my unit is on an offensive. I am your superior. You have to obey me.”

When he received a negative answer. Terzi took 40 of his 100 strongest units and went on a smaller plane and took off without receiving permission from the tower.

All of these dialogues show the struggle between the operation center in Ankara and the operation center in Eskişehir over the control of Turkish airspace on the night of July 15.

Ankara is spending an enormous effort to have Semih Terzi’s plane take off while the operation center in Eskişehir and several officers listening to their orders are trying to obstruct the coup plotters using the airspace.

Now let’s go to an earlier time that night. Air Force Commander General Abidin Ünal is at a wedding at the Istanbul Moda Sea Club. One of the first decisions he took when he heard about the coup attempt and planes taking off from Akıncı without permission was to issue the instruction that would deactivate the Ankara Operation Center overtaken by Kemal Mutlum and inform them that Eskişehir had sole authority.

This was the instruction that was dictated to Eskişehir by phone at 11:51 p.m. and communicated to all units:

“The Air Force Operation Center has been overtaken. The orders coming from there are not legal and should not be given attention. All orders are to be given by the Air Force Commander over the Eskişehir Operation Center. Legal action will be taken against all who act otherwise.”

Ünal took one more critical move. That was the decision to “unplug” the center in Ankara.

“I called Colonel [Alper] Ketencioğlu from Air Force Command and I ordered him to blind the operation center. In other words, I ordered him to cut the electricity, the computer systems and the telephones,” recounted Ünal in his testimony.

The last decision was one of the most critical steps. With the execution of this order, the operation center went blind all of a sudden. The coup plotters lost control over the airspace, the ability to detect flights and to give them orders. That did not change, even after Ünal was apprehended shortly after he gave these orders.