Author: Selahattin Yüzbaşı

It’s been 4 years since Erdogan made his landmark speech about Syria where he woved -rather incredulously-to “pray near the grave of Salahaddin Ayyubi and pray in the Umayyad Mosque”. It was arguably a coded [1] message signalling his irredentist -and also ecumenical- ambitions, which was decoded by his pious followers wıthout any difficulty. Regardless, his followers have rarely been coy about calling him the Caliph and Erdogan is cunningly giving the right signals and conspicous approval to such a ridicilous -and one might add catastrophic- claim.

Sadly, 4 years after this glamorous(!) proclamation, the first day of the new year, there were two pictures circulating in the Turkish social media [2]. The first one was the main news everyone talked about: Another spectacular attack by ISIS in one of the most popular night clubs in Istanbul, which caused 39 deaths and scores of wounded. The other much-less-circulated one was released by famous Turkish journalist Fehim Tastekin in his

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The famous Ummayyad Mosque at which Erdogan promised his supporters to pray! Totally destroyed having been turned into the headquarters by the opposition in Syria, whose main supporter was -ironically- no one other than Erdogan.

Twitter account which showed the incredible devastation in Halep. These two developments together removed any doubts about two crucial facts about Turkey:

a.The total collapse of Erdogan’s Syrian -if not all of his National Security- Policy.

b. The failure of Turkish Security Establishment as whole. [3] In this article I will present the evidence of the second point, the failed security establishment and some grave implications of this development.

What is the Security Establishment

Many different definitions can be given and a variety of institutions within the government apparatus might be included in this. However, within the scope of this article the term Turkish Security Establishment refers to its 3 main pillars: Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri-TSK), Turkish National Police (Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü-EGM) and the National Directorate of Intelligence (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı). The real culprit i.e. Erdogan and his cronies set aside, these are the organisations that have failed (after years of wrong policies coupled with the massive purge following the failed coup in July) and they are responsible for the bloodshed in the country.

A Country in Chaos

Nothing reveals the gravity of the situation than the numbers: Since June 2015, according to official figures more than 400 civilians died due to terrorist attacks in major cities in Turkey. (These do not even include the regular clashes between the Army and terrorists, mostly in the eastern part of the country)

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Source:New York Times

The details of this horrific figure are even more terrifying. As an example, let us look at the targets. The attacks occured at places and against people where the security should have been the highest. To name a few; the Istanbul Airport, the Central Train Station in Ankara, the biggest public square (Kizilay Square, similar to the Times Square in New York) in Ankara, TSK Headquarters (the attack on the buses transporting the people working there as well as military housing complex), Russian Ambassador, the most famous soccer stadium (Beşiktaş Stadyumu) in Istanbul and lastly the most famous night club in Istanbul (Reina). One could also point to other chilling details such as the means, the weapons used, the size of the bombs (in the stadium attack 400 kg. of military grade-RDX, TNT and PETN- was used and nobody even questioned how the massive seccurity apparatus failed to find out about that as they bring the bomb-rigged car to the heart of Istanbul, a stone’s  throw away from Erdogan’s Istanbul Residence), the timings etc. Everyone of them is more revealing than the other but for the sake of space, I will not go into further detail.

Unprecedented Intelligence Failure

The scary fact is that, none of these attacks fell to the radar screen of the intelligence community. Even most obvious ones, like the attack on the military convoy in Kayseri in December, were not prevented. Some of them, like the last one in Istanbul, were tipped by foreign intelligence services and yet again they were commited by ease. This fact became subject of dark humour in that social media accounts advised following US Embassy security warnings in order to stay safe.

In the years before Erdogan’s massive purge on, first the EGM followed by that on TSK, where literally tens of thousands of professionals were purged and put behind bars without a charge, Turkish intelligence establishment had a perfect grip on the activities of PKK because of solid human intelligence (HUMINT). As any individual experienced in intelligence knows,  HUMINT is the most important aspect of intelligence gathering in the fight against terrorism. HUMINT requires continuity. Managing assets, building trust and all other aspects require consistency and continuity.  But due to the massive purge, (an incredible 95 percent of the police intelligence according to the Minister of Interior) all contacts with assets and informants are gone and there is no HUMINT left! Other branches of intelligence gathering (SIGINT, IMINT etc.) also failed, but we will not extend the article unnecessarily, with further details.

Practically, without any shred of doubt, Turkish Intelligence Services (MIT as well as that of the Police and the Gendarmarie) are practically non existent when it comes to anything other than tracking Erdogan dissidents. Looking just at the last 3 weeks show that, terrorists have the capacity to conduct all kinds of spectacular attacks and there is no intelligence capability to counter that.

Infiltration of Terrorists in the Security Establishment

Erdogan cleansed the EGM ranks of those who conducted the mother of all corruption investigations in Turkish history. Despite massive evidence against Erdogan’s ruling party AKP’s leading figures as well as the than Prime Minister himself, the 17-25 December investigations were branded as police-judiciary coup by Erdogan and used as an excuse to purge police officers not blindly obedient to his illegal activities. Furthermore, those depleted ranks were filled with Erdogan’s supporters (25 thousand new police officers all of which entered the force with an AKP reference) , whom -as we clearly know after the assasination of the Russian Ambassador- include all sorts of Islamic Extremists even members of Al Nusra (which Erdogan rejects to call a terrorist organization).

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The police officer who killed the Russian Ambassador, posing with the famous Al Nusra salute while reciting the organisation’s anthem.

More worrying than an incapable police force, which became evident in the failure to provide security in the biggest cities at the most critical places (like airports), is a force which is infiltrated by terrorists. While the assasination of the Ambassador was tried to be showed as an individual case, the incompetency of the police in many other events is so evident that, it is almost impossible to scratch out the possibility of some sort of inside help. Take the latest attack at the Reina night club, for example: A single assasin came to the venue which was several hundred meters from a police station, through three police check points, strafed the property with an AK 47 for more than seven minutes, changed clothes, left the place and disappeared into thin air. Whole tragedy and the apparent ease of the perpetrator with which he went through intensive security measures, begs the question: Is the attacker, like the assasin of the Ambassador, a member of the police or did he get any help from the inside?

Military Embarassments

Lastly, I will touch a little to the recent events indicating incompetincies of the TSK. I should add, this is a whole another subject and you will see more on that later, however, any piece about security in Turkey would be incomplete withot saying a few words about the TSK, and I will do just that.

TSK, one of the most battle hardened forces in the world in terms of counter terrorism, have been showing signs of substantial deterioration. Leaving details to other articles, let me just point out only some aspects of one shameful operation: The attack against Al Bab.

While the President, Ministry of Defence, TSK and seemingly all media establishment is desperately trying to show minor developments as critical operational gains which presumably will lead to the inescapable defeat of ISIS, pictures from the field tell a different story. Never in the recent memory did Turkish Army suffer such heavy losses (officially 16 soldiers in just one day, while witness accounts from the field says the number is much higher) and never before did it lose such critical equipment, including Tanks, APC’s, armored vehicles in addition to a variety of other weapons and equipment.

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The worst is not the loss of equipment or -however horrific they may be- not even the deaths. It is the soldiers captured by ISIS. The Minister of Defence unashamedly admitted that ISIS has 3 Turkish soldiers but there is no further information. Even the monstrous burning alive of soldiers by ISIS was blacked out in the media and no officials made any comments for days! Furthermore, it is known that not only ISIS but also the PKK has captive soldiers but again, nobody cares about them. Just like any person who has contacts within the Military, I know that the frustration within the ranks of TSK is huge. Having lost all the brain, the force became a militia like establishment and there is no light at the end of the tunnel from the perspective of Officers. Coming days, as said one Officer fighting in Al Bab, will be worse than today.

What is Next?

Unfortunately, only worse is to be expected. There is no point in sugarcoating the obvious. As Robert Fisk indicated with an in-your-face manner, “If a democratically-elected dictator wants to act as a conduit in a neighbour’s civil war – as Pakistan did in Afghanistan, channelling weapons, funds and fighters to combat the Russians with American and Saudi help and encouragement – what does it expect but massacres in its own major cities? “. Exactly.

Furthermore, unlike Pakistan, Erdogan is not only feeding the beast with his own hands but also eradicating the only tool against that, i.e. the security establishment. In his world of self proclaimed successes and conspiracy ridden pseudo failures, all he does is good and everything there is bad is the fault of other, there is no accountability. Not a single security official resigned or sacked, except for those who did not submitted their uncoditional obedience. As the greatest example, the Head of MIT, Hakan Fidan,  despite all his major failures as summarised above, continues to be one of his most trusted men. One could also add, Gen. Hulusi Akar, the man behind the coup and all military failures.

At this point, there is one important question circulating in every capital of the West: “Did we lose Turkey and has she become a security liability for the Alliance?” Well, that is the million dollar question, answer to which does not seem very complicated.

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The Caliph and his Vuzera: Akar, Erdogan and Fidan. Posing happily for the cameras in Uzbekistan in 19 November 2016. One can only speculate about the reason for their happiness or their chosing to show it so blatantly, while the country is in shambles because of their failures.

[1] By the word “coded” I have no intention of introducing yet another conspiracy theory, which are very popular in the Turkish media. It was coded in the sense that, it used very specific symbols familiar to political Islamists and not easy to be recognised to those who do not have a good grasp of the Islamist jargon. For example, in the very same speech, Erdogan mentioned “praying at the tomb of Ibn-i Arabi”, famous 12th century Islamic Sufi mystic. The interesting historical context is that,the location of Ibn-i Arabi’s tomb was not known until the Ottoman Sultan Selim I (Yavuz) said to have re-discovered it during his campaign to Syria in 1516. After this campaign, having defeated the then protector of the Abbasid Caliphate, Mamluks of Egypt, in 1516 and 1517, Yavuz claimed the Caliphate for himself. This subtle reference to Ottomans claiming the Caliphate, through a military campaign in Syria, during which the tomb of a famous sufi mystic was discovered in the famous Umayyad Mosque, arguably plays into the pschye of the Turkish Islamists, ardent followers of Erdogan.

[2] In Erdogan’s new Turkey, social media is the media. After a massive crackdown on the media, even the most horrific events take little to no place in the established media, making social media the sole -albeit very limited- source of information. we should also note this medium is not immune to intervention either. In that Turkey has consistently been topping the list of countries demanding Twitter to ban certain accounts. As an example, between January 1 and June 2016, Turkey’s Courts submitted 721 removal requests. The next on the list was Brazil with mere 21 requests.

[3] Related to this observation, an increasing number of analyists have recently argued  that Turkey is on the verge of becoming another Pakistan. There is no need to emphasize that implications of this will be much greater than the Southeast Asian country.

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