SitRep: Mass Arrests, Dismissals in Turkey; Russian Missiles in Crimea
The Far-Right Foreigners Coming to Cleveland, Cars as Weapons, And Lots More
Here it comes. The coup is over. And the crackdown is in full swing. After Friday’s failed attempt to overthrow the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by a faction within the military, the government has quickly arrested at least 6,000 people — mostly military personnel — dismissed nearly 3,000 prosecutors and judges, and sacked a staggering 8,000 police officers in a wholesale gutting of the nation’s military and legal apparatus that likely spells dark days ahead for the country.
“They will pay a heavy price for this,” Erdogan said, launching a purge of the armed forces. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” Turkish officials say they are continuing to look for other potential plotters and even issued an arrest warrant Sunday for Erdogan’s top military aide, Col. Ali Yazici.
How does this end? The Turkish government is lashing out in all directions, with a high-ranking member of the Erdogan government accusing Washington of directly helping to foment the putsch. Turkish Labor Minister Suleyman Soylu bluntly claimed over the weekend that “the U.S. is behind this coup attempt.” The comments “come on top of the long-standing U.S. criticism of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies, which include opening roughly 2,000 legal cases against political opponents, journalists, comedians, and ordinary Turks accused of insulting the president,” FP’s Yochi Dreazen writes.
Who’s army is it? The rift within the ranks of the Turkish armed forces — which had already endured years of ousters to ensure loyalty to the president — signals that the NATO country is far less stable than had been thought. Erdogan has claimed the conspirators were loyal to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Turkey has demanded that Washington extradite Gulen, something Secretary of State John Kerry said is possible, if enough evidence against him could be furnished.
FP’s Siobhan O’Grady and Elias Groll have more on the controversial cleric here.
Loyality. The Institute for the Study of War released an analyst note Sunday night assessing that “the inability of the junior officers in charge of the coup to broaden their support base indicates that Erdogan has the personal loyalty of most of the senior officer corps,” and that “Erdogan will take this opportunity to further establish his cult of personality in the military by purging the military at lower levels.”
What does this mean for ISIS fight? The turmoil in Turkey likely won’t be good news for the fight against the Islamic State, FP’s Paul McLeary reports. U.S. officials have long been openly critical of the limited role the Turkish military has played in stopping the flow of foreign fighters moving into Syria, and the latest instability will likely do little to improve the situation.
Commando raids, F-16s. Some critical details of the scope of the insurrection emerged on Sunday, which included a daring special operations raid on the coastal resort where Erdogan had been staying which just failed to nab the leader, and a harrowing incident where two rebel-flown F-16 fighters followed the president’s plane on its way to Istanbul, locking radars on the jet, but failing to fire.
As the purge of the military continued on Sunday, one of those arrested was Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, the chief of Incirlik Air Base, from which the U.S. military flies missions over Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State. Reports have emerged claiming Van asked U.S. officials at the base for asylum, but was refused. The Greek government also finds itself in a tough spot after eight Turkish officers flew a helicopter to Greece in a bid for asylum. Turkey has demanded their extradition.
The European Union is worried. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday that she’s worried about the arrests and dismissals. “Legitimate institutions needed to be protected,” she told reporters before a EU foreign ministers meeting, also attended by John Kerry. “There is no excuse for any steps that takes the country away from that.”
Europe had long been concerned about Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, but officials were more open about their suspicious on Monday. Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for regional affairs, suggested that Erdogan was more than ready for the crackdown. The arrests showed “at least that something has been prepared” because “lists are available already,” Hahn said Monday.
Remember the GOP? Amid the turmoil in Turkey and France, let’s not forget that the Republican convention kicks off in Cleveland on Monday. FP’s Molly O’Toole is right in the thick of things on the golden shores of Lake Erie, reporting back that Brexit leader Nigel Farage and far-right Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders are coming to Cleveland as part of “a long but little-known tradition thought to date back to the birth of the United States. Every four years, a sizable contingent of foreign ambassadors, members of parliament, and political strategists flock to the United States for two of the premier events in American politics. After Cleveland, an even larger foreign delegation will head to Philadelphia for the Democratic convention.”
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Details about the attacker in the horrific truck attack against Bastille Day celebrations in Nice are beginning to trickle in. French media report that the driver of the vehicle, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, carried out reconnaissance for the attack two weeks prior, driving the route he would later use to kill 84 people. The Islamic State-linked propaganda outlet, Amaq news agency, released a statement by the group claiming responsibility for the attack and calling Bouhlel a “soldier” for the group. The jihadist group previously claimed Orlando shooter Omar Mateen as a “fighter” for the Islamic State in one of its statements despite no evidence of operational support for or foreknowledge of the attack. For more, check out FP’s Paul McLeary examining the roots of the idea for using a vehicle as a weapon.
North Korea’s been spending big to develop weapons of mass destruction and asymmetric capabilities but it’s having a harder time improving its conventional forces, Reuters reports. In the past year, Pyongyang has tested a nuclear weapon and shown off a range of new ballistic missiles and delivery systems. Its conventional forces, however, are still saddled with aging equipment. Kim Jong Un appears to be trying to cut the fat from his officer corps and gain more control over the military. Since coming to power, Kim put civilians in charge of the National Defense Commission and forced generals to prove their merit in marksmanship competitions and flight trials to suss out those who’ve risen through corruption and nepotism.
Russia is pushing its anti-access and area denial capabilities closer to the West, this time with plans to deploy S-400 air defense missiles to Crimea. Defense Tech reports that Russia’s Lt. Col. Evgeny Oleinikov said the country will send the S-400 Triumf, Russia’s most advanced air defense system, to the Crimean peninsula next month. The S-400 will add to the S-300 batteries, which Russia has already stationed there. Russia also recently sent additional S-300 missiles to Belarus, with which it shares a joint air defense network.
The Monterey Institute of International Studies released a study showing that Russia digitally altered satellite photographs which it claimed were evidence that Ukrainian missile systems downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014. Using sophisticated forensic software, the researchers concluded that the satellite photographs presented by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been altered, with a portion of one photograph showing an inconsistent compression with the rest of the image and another showing purported Ukrainian missile systems in sharper focus than its context. Open source analyses of the incident have repeatedly pointed to Russian complicity the downing of the flight, but Russia denies its forces had any role in the incident.
Assad regime forces have captured rebels’ last remaining supply route into the city of Aleppo, tightening the stranglehold of the city and raising fears that Aleppo will face a lengthy, punitive siege. The Assad regime and its allied forces have besieged a number of cities throughout the conflict, starving the civilian populations as international aid agencies try in vain to deliver aid to those affected. The encirclement has rebel groups worrying about their future just as American and Russian diplomats are at work on an agreement to jointly target extremist groups.
A drone launched from Syria crossed into Israeli airspace and missed getting hit by Israeli Patriot missiles and an air-to-air missile. Defense News reports that Israeli forces tried to shoot down the unmanned aircraft with two Patriot missiles and a missile fired by an F-16 as the drone flew over the Golan Heights. All three missiles missed and the aircraft — as yet still unidentified — returned back to Syrian airspace. The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has frequently sent Iranian-made drones into Israeli airspace over the years.
Iraq’s maverick militant cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, has told his followers to take aim at American troops in the country. Reuters reports that Sadr posted a statement to his website saying that American military personnel “are a target for us” after a follower asked him to respond to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s announcement that the U.S. would send 560 more troops to Iraq. Sadr’s Mahdi Army frequently fought U.S. troops during the American occupation of Iraq but lately the firebrand cleric has been focused on staging protests in the Green Zone against corruption in the Iraqi government.
Special operations always gets the good stuff. DOD Buzz reports that Army special operations troops are getting the iPhone 6s and ditching their buggy old Android devices. The Apple devices will be used as part of U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s (USASOC) version of the Nett Warrior program, which links mobile devices into military networks. USASOC had previously used Android phones in the program, as the rest of the service does, but found the Google-developed open source operating system to be wanting in the user experience department. A source tells the news outlet that iPhones can display drone video feeds with “seamless” quality whereas “Android freezes up.”
The Defense Department’s effort to hack and disrupt the Islamic State’s communications isn’t going so well, according to the Washington Post. Over the past few months, Pentagon officials have been hyping up an effort to use offensive cyber capabilities against the jihadist group. Cyber Command had set up a specific unit named Joint Task Force Ares to develop malware for use against Islamic State targets. But the task force is lagging behind in getting the requisite personnel and putting together its menu of malware.
Photo Credit: Burak Kara/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary