By Gulsen Solaker and Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish plans to restructure its armed forces are aimed at eliminating the possibility of another coup attempt and the moves will be in line with the structure and spirit of the NATO alliance, Turkey’s defense minister said on Friday.
President Tayyip Erdogan has issued two decrees dismissing around 3,000 members of NATO’s second-biggest armed forces since a July 15 coup attempt, including more than 40 percent of generals. He has shut down military high schools and brought force commanders under tighter government control.
The abortive coup, in which rogue soldiers commandeered fighter jets, tanks and helicopters in their bid to seize power, killed more than 230 people and raised concern about Turkey’s ability to protect itself against the threat from Islamic State in neighboring Syria and a Kurdish insurgency in its southeast.
“The restructuring aims to abolish the mechanism that has staged six small and large coups in the last 60 years. The steps we are carrying out … perfectly suit NATO’s structure and spirit,” Defence Minister Fikri Isik told Reuters.
As part of the overhaul, the commanders of the air, land and naval forces will report directly to Isik. Former military officers and opposition politicians have warned the changes will damage the chain of command.
“The steps have three basic principles. The first is compliance with democracy. Second, they are the product of global experience. Lastly, the steps ensure nobody will attempt a coup in Turkey again,” Isik said in an interview in Ankara.
He said 288 soldiers, including 9 generals, were still at large after the failed coup. He rejected concerns that the events had weakened Turkey’s fight against Islamic State or against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants.
Members of the U.S.-led coalition were continuing to strike Islamic State targets in Syria from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, he said, after the base was used by rogue soldiers during the failed coup.
He also said Turkey aimed to boost the role of private companies and small business in its defense industry and it restructures the security sector.
(Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall)