The council’s meeting is set to continue until Aug. 4. There are rumors in Ankara that Erten’s dismissal could be related to his poor management capabilities with respect to the killing of 34 citizens by F-14 jets in Uludere in December 2011 after they were mistaken for members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the downing of a Turkish F-4 warship by Syrian forces on June 22. Some also claim that Erten has consistently displayed a poor performance at National Security Council (MGK) meetings and might be replaced with Lt. Gen. Abidin Ünal, who is the most experienced general at the First Air Forces Command in Eskişehir. However, Ünal is also known for being “problematic” in terms of his loyalty to a political will.
The military is expected to resist the government’s move to ask Erten to retire. After Gen. Bilgin Balanlı, the War Academies commander, was arrested as part of an investigation into the subversive Sledgehammer coup plan, Lt. Gen. Erten was promoted to the rank of general and appointed Air Forces commander during the YAŞ meeting in 2011.
Both the 2010 and 2011 YAŞ meetings were eventful as the commanding echelon of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) resisted the government when President Abdullah Gül decided to exercise his legal rights in approving or denying the promotion of officers. A crisis dominated last year’s YAŞ meeting as former Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and three force commanders resigned in protest of the government’s refusal to promote generals who stand accused in the Sledgehammer coup case, in line with legal regulations for such situations. But the president appointed Land Forces Commander Gen. Necdet Özel to replace Koşaner in a move that could be described as a “soft transition.”
Liberal generals to be appointed
There are also reports that the government agreed with the military on extending the service of generals who are suspects in the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials instead of asking them to retire. Reports also seem to indicate that the president will appoint more liberal, visionary generals to various positions at this year’s YAŞ meeting. It is also claimed that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Gül have been holding talks for some time now on bringing visionary generals into the command echelon of the Turkish military. Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has said in response to a question that they are still working out promotions, without elaborating or providing details in this regard.
A reliable source said at last year’s YAŞ meeting that the government was working to design the higher echelons of the military while this year the government is mulling over appointing liberal generals in an attempt to increase the civilian nature of the armed forces’ structure. The government, according to the same source, will filter out coup-seeking generals while also pushing for the promotion of “good generals.”
As both Sledgehammer and Ergenekon suspects have lost their appeals in court, where they claimed they have been the target of unfair accusations, and as coup documents specified in an indictment have turned out to be authentic, some suspect officers who were supposed to be promoted will be asked to retire. Some officers, according to an agreement with the government referred to as a “midway formula,” will continue to serve. A total of 40 out of 68 active duty generals and admirals who are behind bars are also expecting to be promoted at this year’s YAŞ meeting. However, it is expected that 22 suspect officers, whose service was extended in 2010 and 2011 and has now hit the four-year limit, will be asked to retire and the tenure of the remaining 18 officers is expected to be extended.