Assessing the Post-July 15 Turkish Military: A Comparative Analysis of the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch Operations

Article

Despite there being much speculation on how the events during the July 15, 2016 military uprising and the resultant mass purges and military reforms disrupted the operational effectiveness of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), no analytical piece assessing the TAF’s effectiveness and relying on field-related facts and insights derived from primary sources has appeared...

Summary

Despite there being much speculation on how the events during the July 15, 2016 military uprising and the resultant mass purges and military reforms disrupted the operational effectiveness of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), no analytical piece assessing the TAF’s effectiveness and relying on field-related facts and insights derived from primary sources has appeared so far. This note aims to fill this gap by comparing and contrasting the post-July 15 TAF’s two critical cross-border operations into the north of Syria: Operation Euphrates Shield (OES, August 2016–March 2017) against so-called Islamic State (IS) in the Jarablus–al-Rai–al-Bab triangle and Operation Olive Branch (OOB, January 2018–April 2018) against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region. The design, planning, and execution of both of these operations as well as their similarities and differences tell a lot about how and to what extent the institutional shock of the July 15 uprising, subsequent military reforms, and mass purges have affected the TAF’s operational capacity. Further, OES, providing a snapshot of the TAF just after the July 15 uprising, and OOB, providing a snapshot of the TAF one and a half years after the uprising, reveal insights regarding the characteristics of Turkey’s potential future cross-border operations into neighboring Syria. Such operations are likely in 2019 considering Ankara’s strong desire to greatly diminish, if not eliminate, YPG control of terrain along the Turkey-Syria border in the northeast of Syria at all costs and by all means.

Keywords: Operational Effectiveness, Turkish Armed Forces, Operation Euphrates Shield, Operation Olive Branch, Terrorism


Introduction

Operation Euphrates Shield (OES), conducted from August 24, 2016–March 29, 2017 (216 days) against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the triangle of Jarablus–al-Rai–al-Bab, and Operation Olive Branch (OOB), conducted from January 20–March 18, 2018 (58 days) against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region in the northwest of Syria are two cross-border operations the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) conducted after the military uprising in the July 15, 2016. TAF’s primary objectives during these operations were seize and hold critical terrains for border security and create buffer zones inside Syria so as to de-territorialize the IS in the northwest of Euphrates, and then to disrupt PYD contiguity, if not eliminate, and by doing so generate diplomatic effects so as to influence the strategic preferences of actors having stakes in the operational theater, notably the US’s calculus vis-à-vis the PKK-affiliated YPG.

At first glance, one may think that these two are typical traditional conventional ground force sweeps using both Special Forces (SF) to seize and hold terrain, and more or less, similar to Turkey’s earlier cross-border operations such as Operation Hammer I and II in 1997-1998 and Operation Sun (Gunes) in 2008, both conducted against PKK targets in Northern Iraq. Yet, when examining the causes that triggered these two operations, their conduct, (at the tactical, operational, and strategic-political levels), their command and control (C2), actors involved in the decision-making process (security sector actors such as the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), TAF, and political actors such as the presidency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and bureaucrats such as the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), the Turkish Red Crescent, and local municipalities), the type and extent of military technologies used and material loss they caused, the operations’ relation with foreign policy (as operations effected by the strategic choices of global actors such as the United States and Russia, regional actors such as the Assad regime and Iran, and non-state actors such as the PYD, Free Syrian Army (FSA), ISIS, etc.), and their consequences, one would suggest that both OES and OOB have many differences from those earlier cross-border operations. As Turkey’s potential future operations in the coming years will have the same genetic foot prints of both OES and OOB, it is worth taking a closer look at them and comparing the Turkish military’s performance in these two operations, accordingly.

OES was initiated just one month after the failed July 15 military uprising, and OOB was initiated almost one and a half years after it. These two operations were conducted in the midst of military reforms directly affecting the nature of civil-military relations and mass purges degrading the Turkish military’s operational effectiveness.

It is taken from TASAM Publishing's book named “New World Architecture Of Economy and Security“
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