Turkey appoints new military commanders

August 4, 2011 - 7:29 AM
Turkey Military

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, talks with Gen. Necdet Ozel, Turkey's new Land Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff, at the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Kemak Ataturk, after the military's annual meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Isik Kosaner and the commanders of the navy, the army and the air force suddenly resigned Friday, July 29, 2011 to protest the arrest of dozens of generals as suspects in an alleged plot to overthrow the country's Islamic-rooted government. Many have questioned whether such a plot ever existed and see the arrests as part of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's long-standing campaign to establish civilian authority over Turkey's once powerful military. The Government appointed Gen. Ozel as the new Land force commander and acting Chief of Staff early Saturday, July 30, 2011.(AP Photo)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Thursday appointed commanders to posts left vacant by the resignation of the military's top brass in a dispute with the government that showcased the elected leaders' strengthening control over the once-mighty military.

President Abdullah Gul approved the appointment of a new chief of staff as well as new commanders to head the navy, army and air force, at the end of a key four-day meeting to discuss military promotions and dismissals, said his spokesman, Ahmet Sever. The commanders will take their posts after a final Cabinet approval, he said.

The country's military chief of staff and the leaders of the navy, army and air force stepped down last week, frustrated over the arrests and prosecution of hundreds of officers for allegedly trying to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.

Erdogan's government adamantly opposed promoting generals implicated in the alleged coup plots, prompting the resignations of the top brass who said the officers were being punished before a court verdict and that the military was being portrayed as a "criminal" institution.

The new appointments show how the elected government is gaining the upper hand over the military, breaking with the tradition in which the military made its own decisions on promotions and dismissals within the ranks, having the government rubber-stamp the decisions.

The staunchly secular military has overthrown three governments since 1960 and pressured an Islamic-led government to step down in 1997.

Gen. Necdet Ozel — the former commander of the military police force and untainted by the alleged plots — was named the new chief of staff to replace the resigned Gen. Isik Kosaner. Ozel had been made the acting chief of staff on Friday, hours after Kosaner stepped down.

The list approved by Gul sidelined 14 generals or admirals who were in line for promotion and who have been implicated in the alleged plots. Sever, Gul's spokesman, said the generals would retain current positions and that a decision on their promotions was deferred for a year.

The officers have been jailed on charges of plotting to overthrow the government in 2003. The military has denied the accusations.

Also sidelined was Gen. Aslan Guner, who had earlier been tipped to become the land forces commander. He was appointed as head of the War Academy instead. Guner had angered the government for snubbing Gul's wife who wears an Islamic-style headscarf.

The new air force commander, three-star general Mehmet Erten, was swiftly given an extra star allowing him to be promoted to the position, which is held by four-star generals. Gen. Hayri Kivrikoglu was named the commander of land forces, while Adm. Emin Bilgel was made navy chief. None of them have been linked to anti-government plots.