Turkish Armed Forces

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Turkish Armed Forces
Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri
Seal of the Turkish Armed Forces.png
Emblem of the Turkish Armed Forces
Founded209 BC (symbolic claim)[1]
Current formMay 3, 1920[a]
Service branches Turkish Land Forces
Turkish Naval Forces
Turkish Air Force
HeadquartersBakanlıklar, Çankaya, Ankara, Turkey
Commander-in-Chief President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Minister of National Defence Hulusi Akar
Chief of the General Staff General Yaşar Güler
Military age21–41
Conscription6 or 12 months depending on education level[2]
Active personnel355,200[3]
Reserve personnel380,000[3]
BudgetUS$20.4 billion (2019)[4]
(ranked 16th)
Percent of GDP2.7% (2019)[4]
Domestic suppliers
Foreign suppliers
Annual imports$1,540 million (2014)[5]
Annual exports$2,350 million (2018)[6]
Related articles
RanksMilitary ranks of Turkey

The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF; Turkish: Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri, TSK) are the military forces of the Republic of Turkey. Turkish Armed Forces consist of the General Staff, the Land Forces, the Naval Forces and the Air Forces. The current Chief of the General staff is General Yaşar Güler. The Chief of the General Staff is the Commander of the Armed Forces. In wartime, the Chief of the General Staff acts as the Commander-in-Chief on behalf of the President, who represents the Supreme Military Command of the TAF on behalf of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.[7] Coordinating the military relations of the TAF with other NATO member states and friendly states is the responsibility of the General Staff.

The modern history of the army began with its formation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish military perceived itself as the guardian of Kemalism, the official state ideology, especially of its emphasis on secularism. It suppressed several Kurdish rebellions in Turkish Kurdistan in the 1920s and 1930s. After becoming a member of NATO in 1952, Turkey initiated a comprehensive modernization program for its armed forces and sent troops to fight in the Korean War. Since the early 1980s, it has fought in the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish conflict. Towards the end of the 1980s, a second restructuring process was initiated. The Turkish Armed Forces participate in an EU Battlegroup under the control of the European Council, the Italian-Romanian-Turkish Battlegroup. The TAF also contributes operational staff to the Eurocorps multinational army corps initiative of the EU and NATO.

The Turkish Armed Forces is the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the U.S. Armed Forces, with an estimated strength in 2015 of 639,551 military, civilian and paramilitary personnel.[8][9][10][11][12]

Turkey is one of five NATO member states which are part of the nuclear sharing policy of the alliance, together with Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.[13] A total of 90 B61 nuclear bombs are hosted at the Incirlik Air Base. 40 of these are allocated for use by the Turkish Air Force in case of a nuclear conflict, but their use requires the approval of NATO.[14]


War of Independence[edit]

After the end of World War I, many Ottoman military personnel escaped from Rumelia to Anatolia in order to join the new Turkish National Movement (TNM). During the War of Independence, on 3 May 1920, Birinci Ferik Mustafa Fevzi Pasha (Çakmak) was appointed the Minister of National Defence, and Mirliva İsmet Pasha (İnönü) was appointed the Minister of the Chief of General Staff of the government of the Grand National Assembly (GNA).[15] But on 3 August 1921, the GNA fired İsmet Pasha from the post of Minister of National Defence because of his failure at the Battle of Afyonkarahisar–Eskişehir and on 5 August, just before the Battle of Sakarya, appointed the chairman of the GNA Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Atatürk) as commander-in-chief of the Army of the GNA. The TNM won the War of Independence in 1922.

First Kurdish rebellions[edit]

There were several rebellions South-Eastern Turkey in the 1920s and 1930s, the most important of which were the 1925 Sheikh Said rebellion and the 1937 Dersim rebellion. All were suppressed by the TAF, sometimes involving large-scale mobilisations of up to 50,000 troops. Associated atrocities against civilians include the Zilan massacre.

World War II[edit]

Turkey remained neutral until the final stages of World War II. In the initial stage of World War II, Turkey signed a treaty of mutual assistance with Great Britain and France.[16] But after the fall of France, the Turkish government tried to maintain an equal distance with both the Allies and the Axis. Following Nazi Germany's occupation of the Balkans, upon which the Axis-controlled territory in Thrace and the eastern islands of the Aegean Sea bordered Turkey, the Turkish government signed a Treaty of Friendship and Non-Aggression with Germany on 18 June 1941.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Turkish government sent a military delegation of observers under Lieutenant General Ali Fuat Erden to Germany and the Eastern Front.[17] After the German retreat from the Caucasus, the Turkish government moved closer to the Allies and Winston Churchill secretly met with İsmet İnönü at the Adana Conference in Yenice Train Station in southern Turkey on 30 January 1943, with the intent of persuading Turkey to join the war on the side of the Allies. A few days before the start of Operation Zitadelle in July 1943, the Turkish government sent a military delegation under General Cemil Cahit Toydemir to Russia and observed the exercises of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion and its equipment.[18] But after the failure of Operation Zitadelle, the Turkish government participated in the Second Cairo Conference in December 1943, where Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill and İnönü reached an agreement on issues regarding Turkey's possible contribution to the Allies. On 23 February 1945, Turkey joined the Allies by declaring war against Germany and Japan, after it was announced at the Yalta Conference that only the states which were formally at war with Germany and Japan by 1 March 1945 would be admitted to the United Nations.[19]

Korean War[edit]

Turkey participated in the Korean War as a member state of the United Nations and sent the Turkish Brigade, which suffered 731 losses in combat, to South Korea. On 18 February 1952, Turkey became a member of NATO.[20] The South Korean government donated a war memorial for the Turkish soldiers who fought and died in Korea. The Korean pagoda is in Ankara and it was donated in 1973 for the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

Invasion in Cyprus[edit]

On 20 July 1974, the TAF launched an amphibious and airborne assault operation on Cyprus, in response to the 1974 Cypriot coup d'état which had been staged by EOKA-B and the Cypriot National Guard against president Makarios III with the intention of annexing the island to Greece; but the military intervention ended up with Turkey occupying a considerable area on the northern part of Cyprus and helping to establish a local government of Turkish Cypriots there, which has thus far been recognized only by Turkey. The intervention came after more than a decade of intercommunal violence (1963–1974) between the island's Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, resulting from the constitutional breakdown of 1963. Turkey invoked its role as a guarantor under the Treaty of Guarantee in justification for the military intervention.[21] Turkish forces landed on the island in two waves, invading and occupying 37% of the island's territory in the northeast for the Turkish Cypriots, who had been isolated in small enclaves across the island prior to the military intervention.[22][23][24]

In the aftermath, the Turkish Cypriots declared a separate political entity in the form of the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus in 1975; and in 1983 made a unilateral declaration of independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey to this day. The United Nations continues to recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus according to the terms of its independence in 1960. The conflict continues to overshadow Turkish relations with Greece and with the European Union. In 2004, during the referendum for the Annan Plan for Cyprus (a United Nations proposal to resolve the Cyprus dispute) 76% of the Greek Cypriots rejected the proposal, while 65% of the Turkish Cypriots accepted it.

Kurdish–Turkish conflict[edit]

The TAF have fought for decades in the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, mostly against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).[25][26][27][28][29] While most of the conflict has taken place in Turkish Kurdistan, it has also involved forays into neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan as well as more recent attacks on the PKK-affiliated Syrian Democratic Forces in Rojava. The conflict reignited in 2015, after the failure of a three-year Kurdish-Turkish peace process.[30]

War in Bosnia and Kosovo[edit]

Turkey contributed troops in several NATO-led peace forces in Bosnia and Kosovo. Currently there are 402 Turkish troops in Kosovo Force.

War in Afghanistan[edit]

After the 2003 Istanbul Bombings were linked to Al-Qaeda, Turkey deployed troops to Afghanistan to fight Taliban forces and Al-Qaeda operatives, with the hopes of dismantling both groups. Turkey's responsibilities include providing security in Kabul (it currently leads Regional Command Capital), as well as in Wardak Province, where it leads PRT Maidan Shahr. Turkey was once the third largest contingent within the International Security Assistance Force. Turkey's troops are not engaged in combat operations and Ankara has long resisted pressure from Washington to offer more combat troops. According to the Washington Post, in December 2009, after US President Barack Obama announced he would deploy 30,000 more U.S. soldiers, and that Washington wants others to follow suit, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted with the message that Turkey would not contribute additional troops to Afghanistan. "Turkey has already done what it can do by boosting its contingent of soldiers there to 1,750 from around 700 without being asked", said Erdoğan, who stressed that Turkey would continue its training of Afghan security forces.

Humanitarian relief[edit]

The TAF have performed "Disaster Relief Operations," as in the 1999 İzmit earthquake in the Marmara Region of Turkey. Apart from contributing to NATO, the Turkish Navy also contributes to the Black Sea Naval Co-operation Task Group, which was created in early 2001 by Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine for search and rescue and other humanitarian operations in the Black Sea.


According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), in 2010 the Turkish Armed Forces had an active strength of around 402,000 active personnel, consisting of 77,000 professionals and 325,000 conscripts. In addition, it was estimated that there were 378,700 reserve personnel and 152,200 paramilitary personnel (Turkish Gendarmerie and Turkish Coast Guard), giving a combined active and reserve strength of around 932,900 personnel.[31] In 2010, the defence budget amounted to 26 billion liras.[32] The Law on the Court of Accounts was supposed to initiate external ex-post audits of armed forces' expenditure and pave the way for audits of extra budgetary resources earmarked for the defence sector, including the Defence Industry Support Fund.[33] However, the Ministry of Defense has not provided the necessary information,[34] so the armed forces expenditure is not being properly checked.

In 1998, Turkey announced a programme of modernisation worth US$160 billion over a twenty-year period in various projects including tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, submarines, warships and assault rifles.[35] Turkey is a Level 3 contributor to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme.[36] The final goal of Turkey is to produce new-generation indigenous military equipment and to become increasingly self-sufficient in terms of military technologies.

Havelsan of Turkey and Boeing of the United States are in the process of developing a next-generation, high-altitude ballistic missile defence shield. Turkey has chosen the Chinese defense firm CPMIEC to co-produce a $4 billion long-range air and missile system.

Date General/Admiral Officer Total
(incl. civilian)
General staff figures
21 Nov 2011[37] 365 39,975 666,576
2 Oct 2013[38] 347 39,451 647,583
2 May 2014[39] 343 38,971 623,101

General staff[edit]

The General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces is the general staff of the Turkish Armed Forces. Chief of the General Staff reports to Minister of National Defence. General staff is responsible for:

  • Preparing the Armed Forces and its personnel for military operations.
  • Gathering military intelligence
  • Organization and training of the Armed Forces
  • Management of the logistic services

The Chief of the General Staff is also, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in the name of the President, in wartime.

Also, the General Staff is in command of the Special Forces, which is not aligned to any force command within the TAF. The Special Forces get their orders directly from the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces.[40]

Land Forces[edit]

Selimiye Barracks (1828) in Istanbul is the headquarters of the First Army of the Turkish Land Forces.

The Turkish Land Forces, or Turkish Army, can trace its origins in the remnants of Ottoman forces during the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his colleagues formed the Grand National Assembly (GNA) in Ankara on 23 April 1920, the XV Corps under the command of Kâzım Karabekir was the only corps which had any combat value.[41] On 8 November 1920, the GNA decided to establish a standing army (Düzenli ordu) instead of irregular troops (the Kuva-yi Milliye, Kuva-yi Seyyare, etc.)[42] The army of the government of the GNA won the Turkish War of Independence in 1922.

As of 2006, the Turkish Army had 1,300 troops deployed in northern Iraq, according to documents released as part of the United States diplomatic cables leak.[43] The Turkish Army also maintains around 17,500 troops in Northern Cyprus, as part of the Cyprus Turkish Peace Force (Kıbrıs Türk Barış Kuvvetleri, or KTBK.)[44]

Naval Forces[edit]

The Turkish Naval Forces, or Turkish Navy, constitutes the naval warfare service branch of the Turkish Armed Forces. The Turkish Navy maintains several Marines and Special Operations units. The Amphibious Marines Brigade (Amfibi Deniz Piyade Tugayı) based in Foça near İzmir consists of 4,500 men, three amphibious battalions, an MBT battalion, an artillery battalion, a support battalion and other company-sized units.[45] The Su Altı Taarruz (S.A.T. – Underwater Attack) is dedicated to missions including the acquisition of military intelligence, amphibious assault, counter-terrorism and VIP protection; while the Su Altı Savunma (S.A.S. – Underwater Defense) is dedicated to coastal defense operations (such as clearing mines or unexploded torpedoes) and disabling enemy vessels or weapons with underwater operations; as well as counter-terrorism and VIP protection missions.[45]

Air Force[edit]

A Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eagle (foreground) and the tailfin of a Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker (background) of the Turkish Air Force at the Çiğli Air Base in Izmir

The Turkish Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the Turkish Armed Forces. It is primarily responsible for the protection and sovereignty of Turkish airspace but also provides air-power to the other service branches. Turkey is one of five NATO member states which are part of the nuclear sharing policy of the alliance, together with Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.[46] A total of 90 B61 nuclear bombs are hosted at the Incirlik Air Base, 40 of which are allocated for use by the Turkish Air Force in case of a nuclear conflict, but their use requires the approval of NATO.[47]

The Air Force took part in the Operation Deliberate Force of 1995 and Operation Allied Force of 1999, and later participated in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, employing two squadrons (one in the Ghedi fighter wing, and after 2000 one in the Aviano fighter wing.)[48] They returned to Turkey in 2001. In 2006, 4 Turkish F-16 fighter jets were deployed for NATO's Baltic Air Policing operation.

Turkish War Academies[edit]

Turkish War Academies constitute the educational branch of the Turkish Armed Forces. The Ottoman Military College, which later evolved into the Turkish Army War College, was established in 1848. The Naval War College was established in 1864, and the Air War College was established in 1937 (the Aircraft School (Tayyare Mektebi) of the Ottoman Aviation Squadrons was established in 1912, and the Naval Aircraft School (Bahriye Tayyare Mektebi) was established in 1914.)

In order to train Staff Officers in the same system as European armies, the 3rd and 4th years were created in the Army War Academy under the name of "Imperial War School of Military Sciences, General Staff Courses" in 1848. As part of the reorganization efforts of the Ottoman Army, new arrangements were implemented in 1866 for the Staff College and other Military Schools. Through these arrangements, the General Staff training was extended to three years, and with additional military courses a special emphasis was placed on exercises and hands-on training. Although being a staff officer was initially considered a different military branch in itself, effective from 1867 new programs were implemented to train staff officers for branches such as the infantry, cavalry and artillery. In 1899, a new system was developed on the basis of the view that the General Staff Courses should train more officers with higher military education in addition to Staff Officers’ training. Following this principle, a greater number of officers from the Army War Academy began to be admitted to the Staff College. This process continued until 1908. Following the declaration of the Second Constitutional Era in 1908, the structure of the Staff College was rearranged with a new Staff College Regulation on 4 August 1909. A couple of months later, in October, the College was moved from Harbiye to the Yıldız Palace, Crown Prices’ Quarter with the new designation "General Staff School". With this fundamental change, the practice of direct transition from Army War Academy to Staff College was abolished, and admission into Staff College now required two years of field service following the Army War Academy. Afterwards, the officers were subjected to examinations, and those who passed the exam were admitted into the College as Staff Officer candidates. Following the occupation of Istanbul by the Allies of World War I on 16 March 1920, Ottoman military schools were dissolved by the victors of the First World War; nevertheless, the Staff College managed to continue its activities until April 1921 at the Şerif Pasha Mansion in Teşvikiye, Istanbul, where it was relocated on 28 January 1919. In early 1921, it was decided that the Staff College should be moved to Beylerbeyi, Istanbul. However, since all instructors and students had gone to Anatolia to join the Turkish War of Independence, the Staff College was closed down temporarily.

On 13 October 1923, shortly before the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey on 29 October, the Staff College restarted its education and training activities under the name of "Higher Military College" in Beyazıt, Istanbul, in the building of the Ministry of War, today used as the rectorate building of Istanbul University. About six months later, on 24 March 1924, the College was renamed the "Directorate of the General Staff College" and moved to the Yıldız Palace. In 1927, it was once more renamed as the "Staff College Directorate". The College continued its education and training activities in this location until 1975. The War Colleges Command was formed in March 1949. The National Security College was founded in 1952 and the Armed Forces College was established in 1954. The National Security College moved to Ankara in 1995, and by moving back to Istanbul in 2012, it was merged with the Armed Forces College.

After 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt all the Military Academies became part of the new National Defence University which is formed under Ministry of National Defence.

Military bases abroad[edit]

As of August 2013, Turkey has a total of 3,189 military personnel outside its territory. The only military base stationed permanently abroad, regardless of the organizations that are members of Turkey, which has been temporarily holding troops several times abroad due to its responsibilities arising from many international political members, particularly NATO membership, is the Cyprus Turkish Peace Force Command. The military bases of Turkish Armed Forces in Qatar, Syria,[49] Somalia[50] and Bashiqa are active. It is announced that in 2017 Turkey will start working to establish a research base in Antarctica.[51]

Role of the military in Turkish politics[edit]

After the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk prohibited the political activities of officers in active service with the Military Penal Code numbered 1632 and dated 22 May 1930 (Askeri Ceza Kanunu).[52] However, after the coups d'état in 1960, the Millî Birlik Komitesi (National Unity Committee) established the Inner Service Act of the Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri İç Hizmet Kanunu) on 4 January 1961 to legitimize their military interventions in politics. In subsequent coup d'états and coup d'état attempts, they showed reasons to justify their political activities especially with the article 35 and 85 of this act.[53]

The Turkish military perceived itself as the guardian of Kemalist ideology, the official state ideology, especially of the secular aspects of Kemalism[citation needed]. The TAF still maintains an important degree of influence over the decision making process regarding issues related to Turkish national security, albeit decreased in the past decades, via the National Security Council.

The military had a record of intervening in politics, removing elected governments four times in the past. Indeed, it assumed power for several periods in the latter half of the 20th century. It executed three coups d'état: in 1960 (May 27 coup), in 1971 (March 12 coup), and in 1980 (September 12 coup). Following the 1960 coup d'état, the military executed the first democratically elected prime minister in Turkey, Adnan Menderes, in 1961.[54] Most recently, it maneuvered the removal of an Islamist prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, in 1997 (known as the February 28 memorandum).[55] Contrary to outsider expectations, the Turkish populace was not uniformly averse to coups; many welcomed the ejection of governments they perceived as unconstitutional.[56]

On 27 April 2007, in advance of the 4 November 2007 presidential election, and in reaction to the politics of Abdullah Gül, who has a past record of involvement in Islamist political movements and banned Islamist parties such as the Welfare Party, the army issued a statement of its interests. It said that the army is a party to "arguments" regarding secularism; that Islamism ran counter to the secular nature of Turkey, and to the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The Army's statement ended with a clear warning that the TAF stood ready to intervene if the secular nature of the Turkish Constitution is compromised, stating that "the Turkish Armed Forces maintain their sound determination to carry out their duties stemming from laws to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey. Their loyalty to this determination is absolute."[57]

Over a hundred people, including several generals, have been detained or questioned since July 2008 with respect to so-called organisation Ergenekon, an alleged clandestine, ultra-nationalist organization with ties to members of the country's military and security forces. The group is accused of terrorism in Turkey. These accusing claims are reported, even while the trials are going on, mostly in the counter-secular and Islamist media organs[citation needed].

On 22 February 2010 more than 40 officers were arrested and then formally charged with attempting to overthrow the government with respect to so-called "Sledgehammer" plot. They include four admirals, a general and two colonels, some of them retired, including former commanders of the Turkish navy and air force (three days later, the former commanders of the navy and air force were released). Partially as a result, the Washington Post reported in April 2010 that the military's power had decreased.[58]

On the eve of the Supreme Military Council of August 2011, the Chief of the General Staff, along with the Army, Navy, and Air Force commanders, requested their retirement, in protest of the mass arrests which they perceived as a deliberate and planned attack against the Kemalist and secular-minded officers of the Turkish Armed Forces by the Islamists in Turkey, who began to control key positions in the Turkish government, judiciary and police.[59][60][61] The swift replacement of the force commanders in the Supreme Military Council meeting affirmed the government's control over the appointment of top-level commanders. However, promotions continue to be determined by the General Staff with limited civilian control. The European Commission, in its 2011 regular yearly report on Turkey's progress towards EU accession, stated that "further reforms on the composition and powers of the Supreme Military Council, particularly on the legal basis of promotions, still need to materialise."[62] The service branch commanders continue to report to the Prime Minister instead of the Defence Minister.

In July 2016, a few rogue factions of the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to take over the government, but Erdogan supporters and other loyal military units stopped the coup attempt.[63] Many lives were lost and hundreds were injured. The parliament house and some other buildings in Ankara and Istanbul were damaged. Thousands of military personnel have been arrested and structure of the armed forces has been overhauled.[63]

Medals and awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As the Army of the Grand National Assembly.[1]


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