YAŞ meeting amid the Syria crisis
While Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is hitting the road to Arbil to meet Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government leader Massoud Barzani this morning, Turkey’s top civilian and military officials will come around the same table on the margins of the annual Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meetings. The two developments are very much connected, as both meetings are closely linked to Turkey’s security.
This year’s YAŞ meeting comes at a moment when the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is preparing for a potential cross-border operation into Syria to protect Syrian refugees fleeing violence from Syrian troops or to host them inside Syrian territories. 2nd Army Commander Gen. Servet Yörük inspected the army’s readiness and massing along the Syrian border before joining the YAŞ meeting.
The clashes in Aleppo have intensified in the last few days and there are reports that the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has cleared the road from Aleppo to the Turkish border of Syrian troops, making possible the opening of a nearly 50 kilometer-long corridor.
This corridor is considered to be the breathing tube of the FSA, which could turn Aleppo into the center of their rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime. The corridor would also serve as a de facto humanitarian corridor through which international aid could be transferred to inner Syria. All these developments are being closely followed by the military, which has already changed its rules of engagement against the Syrian military elements.
Meanwhile, near the Turkey-Iraq-Syria border crossroad, the Democratic Union of Kurdistan’s (PYD) seizing of control in a number of towns has already pushed the military to focus on the connection between the PYD and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has already said that Turkey will not allow any de facto structures along the border, implying that cross-border operations could be considered to protect the country’s security. All these developments increase the responsibility and the burden of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).
It is under these conditions that the YAŞ will convene today. But it’s not going to be an easy set of meeting. Some 68 generals are in prison now as part of the ongoing Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, both prosecuting military personnel allegedly involved in plots against the government in 2003 and 2004. They include two on-duty generals who are also members of the YAŞ, as well as former Chief of General Staff General İlker Başbuğ, who is being tried on accusations of being the chief of a terror organization.
The arrested personnel are refusing to retire from the army and they cannot get their deserved promotions due to the internal regulations of the army. Apart from the psychological effect of the arrests on the army, this situation makes it impossible to create new cadres and appointments of lower ranking officers to higher positions.
Getting prepared for an armed conflict in Syria while carrying out massive operations against the PKK inside Turkey, the Turkish army is obviously passing through one of the most difficult times in its history.