The Turkish army and Monocle’s criteria for the modern soldier

The Turkish army and Monocle’s criteria for the modern soldier

Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is entering its third decade with a huge question mark: Can it be ended now? If not, do we have a Plan B? The answer may come from a very unconventional source.

The Bible of travelers, the business elite and trendsetters, Monocle, has devoted its September issue to a very surprising topic. On its cover is a dashing, young, handsome soldier of the Norwegian Army. The title: “Marching Orders: A global survey of flashpoints and fighting forces.”

In order to understand where modern armed forces are going, Monocle has identified five qualities of a modern soldier. He (or she) is:

1) Thick-skinned: Because he/she will not be too popular at home or abroad.

2) Broad-shouldered: Because he/she must carry the burden of bad policies.

3) Emotionally aware: Because he/she often plays social worker to comrades and captives.

4) Technically adept: Because warfare has become increasingly digital.

5) Worldly wise: Because it may no longer be enough to just know your neighbor.

The Turkish Armed Forces, especially the higher-ranking commanders at the rank of major or lieutenant general, carry most of the qualities the magazine names, but they seem to be tied to bureaucracy and politics.

My humble three-month experience two years ago in the Elazığ, Bingöl and Tunceli area taught me that the Turkish Armed Forces were almost invincible in the region. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has made a clear policy change regarding the presence of the security forces: They are not to be seen in public, and their vehicles are not to be a part of the scenery, period. Thus, the soldiers were almost forced into their garrisons. They did not socialize, and they did not become a part of local life. They did not see the storm coming.

One thing every commander knows well is that unless you have boots on the ground, your human intelligence is very limited. Your soldiers do not have to be intimidating, but they have to be present. Present, so that the little shop owner in Bitlis, the school teacher in Muş, would feel safe. They are also the protectors of these young soldiers who leave their homes and families to serve the nation.

A former major of the Turkish army’s elite Special Forces, and currently a security issues analyst with the Turkuaz Group, Mete Yarar wrote in an article in daily Cumhuriyet that unless the Turkish General Staff fully analyses what is going wrong with its process, it may never get out of this “endless dark hole.” (Cumhuriyet, Sept. 3, 2012, “The Endless Dark Hole”)

In the preface to his book “Warrior Politics,” Robert Kaplan quotes from Sun Tzu: “The side that knows when to fight and when not will take the victory. There are roads not to be traveled, armies not to be attacked, walled cities not to be assaulted.” It almost seems as though Turkey’s legendary army has forgotten this principle and yielded to the PKK’s attacks.

Yet this too shall pass. Winter will come. Snow will create an imminent cease-fire in the southeast. And by that time we will hope and pray that someone will come up with the political will and the military finesse to break this vicious circle.