|Turkish Military Operations in Afghanistan: A Continuation of Peace by Other Means
|Letters from the Hindu Kush Part I
For over two weeks, I have been in Afghanistan to personally observe international security and development efforts. I will publish several essays on those subjects in the days ahead. *
While other international forces continue to hunt down the insurgents in Afghanistan, some ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces play a different role and put a positive face on the foreign military presence vis-à-vis the Afghan people. Turkish Armed Forces personnel under RC-C (Regional Command-Center) play that positive role by carrying out significant non-combat duties at a time when the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) are not yet ready to stand on their own feet.
In the lead-up to President Obamas announcement to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last October, Washington had asked Ankara to also increase the size of the Turkish military contingent and widen its scope of operations in the violence-torn country. Even though Turkey refused to deploy its forces in a combat role, it agreed to assume control of Kabul Regional Command, which brought the Turkish military presence in Afghanistan from 700 to over 1,750 troops. Since November 2009, the Turkish contingent under RC-C continues to aid and oversee the operations of the ANA and the ANP in keeping peace and order in Kabul province.
It may seem odd that the Turkish military long known for its fighting prowess (at times much to the anxiety of Turkeys neighbors) does not engage in combat in a place a critical as Afghanistan. Not that Turkey is spared from the wrath of groups that operate in this unstable environment: An Al Qaeda-affiliated group carried out multiple attacks in İstanbul in November 2003, killing Turkish civilians and Western diplomats. The terrorists, themselves Turkish, were trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Turkeys perceived aloofness from the fighting in Afghanistan may also appear strange because, despite the distance, the two countries share a sentimental past: The two governments have the symbolic honor of being the first to extend diplomatic recognition to the other in 1921. Together with an emphasis on the two nations shared faith in Islam, that anecdote is frequently heard around Kabul these days.
But prudence and not sentiments drives foreign policy. In fact, its quite beneficial that Turkish troops do not fight the insurgents. The asymmetrical nature of that fight involves significant civilian casualties. Its not a coincidence that, since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, the popularity of foreign troops has deteriorated as the number of Afghan civilian casualties has gone up. Given the high regard it enjoys among the people of Afghanistan (more below), its pointless to add the Turkish Army to that unpopularity list.
So, what are the Turkish Armed Forces doing in Afghanistan to be so popular? The most important Turkish military contribution in Afghanistan is training the ANA. Under the supervision of about twenty Turkish officers and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and a U.S. Army mission, future officers of the ANA are being educated at the Afghan Military Academy per NATO standards.
Turkey is also building a new campus for the military high school in Kabul, which, when complete, will equip future Afghan cadets with state-of-the-art facilities. Ultimately, todays military students educated by their Turkish comrades will constitute a significant portion of the officer corps that will command the future army of Afghanistan.
A similar effort to train the rank-and-file of the Afghan Army is underway. Two weeks ago, the first batch of approximately 600 volunteers finished the initial phase of their two-month basic training at Camp Gazi (former Camp Invicta) outside of Kabul, which was rebuilt and is being operated by the Turkish military. (The word Gazi has religious connotations and was the honorary title of both Atatürk and Afghanistans modernist king Amanullah Khan.) At the soldiers swearing-in ceremony, high-ranking Afghan officials pointed out the advantages of having their recruits trained by the second largest army in NATO.
Similar training efforts to help the Afghan Army become an independent force are taking place in Turkey. By the end of 2011, a total of 1,200 Afghan soldiers will complete special operations courses at the Turkish Armys Mountain Commando School in Isparta. Meanwhile, ten Afghan cadets attend the Turkish Military Academy in Ankara while twenty-three Afghan students two of whom are women are enrolled at the Gülhane Military Medical Academy (GATA) to be trained as medical doctors. Dozens of Afghan NCOs of various branches are undergoing rigorous education in different schools in Turkey. To this day, the Turkish military has trained nearly 9,000 Afghan servicemen and women in Afghanistan and another 1,000 Afghans in Turkey itself. Others will follow.
Not just the Afghan military but also the Afghan people benefit from this process. In Kabul, the Turkish Army operates Atatürk Military Hospital in Camp Doğan, staffed jointly by Turkish and Afghan personnel. The hospital provides free medical services including dental care to nearly 50,000 Kabul residents, who live in one of the poorest parts of town, every year. Within a few weeks, two operating rooms and an intensive care unit are scheduled to enter service. Short of brain surgery and organ transplants, the Turkish military hospital at Camp Doğan will perform sophisticated medical procedures in a place where few others do.
Camp Doğan is an interesting place for other reasons. In order to foster more friendly relations with local residents, camp authorities allow local children to tour the camp as they wish. Viewed as a potential security threat at other foreign bases, Afghan children and their parents are actually welcome at Camp Doğan, which probably explains why ordinary Afghans who come into contact with Turkish soldiers have good things to say about the Turks.
I experienced that phenomenon in person this week when I was embedded in one of the joint patrols carried out by the Turkish Army, the ANA, and the ANP. Turkish personnel did not mount the turrets on top of their armored cars and frequently got out of their vehicles to visit schools and health clinics built by Afghans with the help of Turkish units. The hospitality of the Afghans police, military, and civilian challenges Afghanistans unjust reputation as an unfriendly place. On the contrary, when treated with respect, Afghan people tend to extend the same courtesy.
In contrast to what the most prominent theorist of modern war, Carl von Clausewitz, said about the functions of an army and war (war is merely a continuation of politics by other means), the Turkish military presence in Afghanistan is a continuation of peace by other means. Asking Turkish troops to confront the insurgents would undermine international security efforts in Afghanistan.
Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia and a regular contributor to the Journal of Turkish Weekly.
* The authors travels in Afghanistan are sponsored by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) and the Turkish Embassy in Kabul. The author is grateful to the following for their invaluable help: His Excellency Ambassador Basat Öztürk, Third Secretary Onur Katmerci, Third Secretary Onur Şaylan, Military Attaché Colonel Can Bolat, and Kemal Doğan of the Turkish Embassy; Civilian Coordinator Türker Arı, agricultural expert Osman Kabacaoğlu, TİKA expert Mikail Taşdemir, and Mahir Akhüseyinoğlu of the Turkish Provincial Reconstruction Team in Wardak province; General Levent Çolak, Colonel Ali Bilgin Varlık, and Colonel Ramazan Akyıldız of Kabul Regional Command; TİKA Vice President Mustafa Şahin, TİKAs Kabul representative Özay Özütok, and TİKA experts Adem Urfa, Talha Kaçar, and Ahmet Dayı.
The views expressed in this article DO NOT reflect the opinions of the above-mentioned or the position of the Turkish government.