Turkey is located in the center of the Caucasus, Middle East and the Balkans which are the most unstable regions in the World. Therefore the defense policy is designed to preserve and protect the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and vital interests of the country. The Turkish Armed Forces missions and responsibilities are clearly stated in the Constitution and determined by laws as to react against new security problems and crises in the new century, to be ready to face the uncertainties, and to ensure the security of Turkey against internal and external risks.
Military service in Turkey is compulsory for all male citizens between 20 - 41 years of age (with some exceptions such as handicapped, or mentally ill, or not healthy people). Women are allowed only to become officers choosing it as a career enrolling in military schools, not as conscripts. Those men who are 20 years of age but still continue their higher education at Universities or vocational training programs are allowed to postpone their draft until they have completed these programs. The duration of the basic military service varies: 12 months for privates (elementary or high school graduates), 8 months for reserve officers (University graduates), and 6 months for short-term privates (those who have earned a university degree and have not been enlisted as reserve officers).
For Turkish citizens who have lived or worked abroad for at least 3 years, a basic military training of 3 weeks is offered instead of the full-term military service if they pay a certain fee in foreign currency. Also in times when the General Staff assesses that the military reserve exceeds the required amount, paid military service of 1 month basic training is established for local citizens. After the 1999 earthquake, an exception was made and paid military service was accepted that year to help the economy using the collected money in reconstruction and rehabilitation of the cities suffered during that horrible earthquake of August 17th.
All Land, Naval and Air forces were connected to the Turkish General Staff, Gendarmerie forces were connected to the Land forces, and Coast Guard is connected to the Naval forces. But after the Coup tentative in July 2016 the Government has changed these procedures under the State of Emergency (OHAL) rule. Now, all Land, Naval and Air forces are connected directly to the Minister of National Defence and the Gendarmerie forces and Coast Guard are connected to the Interior Affairs Ministry.
The Chief of General Staff (General Metin Gurak since August 2023) is appointed by the President as Commander of the Armed Forces and is responsible to the Prime Minister. His office is coordinated with the Ministry of National Defense who is also responsible to the Premiere. The Council of Ministers is responsible to Turkish Grand National Assembly for national security and the preparation of the Armed Forces to defend the country. However, authority to declare a State of War and send Turkish Armed Forces to foreign countries or allow foreign armed forces to be stationed in Turkey rests with Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM).
Land Forces are organized into; 4 Corps Command (1st Army in Marmara area, 2nd Army in the Southeast, 3rd Army in the Northeast, Aegean Army in the Aegean region), Land Forces Training & Doctrine Command, and Land Forces Logistic Command. The country is divided into four military sectors on the basis of strategic conditions of terrain, logistics, communications, and the potential external threat. These sectors are assigned to four field armies, the first three of which would come under NATO command in the event of a NATO reinforced alert.
The First Army has its headquarters in Istanbul and is widely deployed in the European part of Turkey, known as Thrace. Their responsibility is to defend Istanbul, Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, and Kocaeli Peninsula.
The Third Army has its headquarters in Erzincan and is deployed in eastern Anatolia, covering the borders with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan from the east and northeast. For the Armed Forces readiness against any possible crisis in the area (such as during Persian Gulf War and Iraqi War), most of the armored, mechanized, and commando brigades are located in the central region in order to act rapidly into any scenario around our borders.
The Aegean Army (or 4th Army) has its headquarter in Izmir and was established in mid-1970's against growing tensions with Greece in the Aegean Sea. Their responsibility is to defend the Aegean coast from the Dardanelles to the north down to Cyprus, and keeping sea routes and communication lines open in the Aegean. The Turkish peace corps on Cyprus are connected to the Aegean Army command structure.
Turkish Land Forces are composed by; 4 field armies, 9 army corps, 2 mechanized infantry division, 2 mechanized infantry division headquarters (tactical), 1 infantry division and 1 training division, 16 mechanized infantry brigades, 14 armored brigades, 12 infantry/regional security brigades, 5 commando brigades, and 5 training brigades. There are around 3100 tanks in their inventory, 6300 armored personnel carriers (APC), 331 helicopters.
Turkish Naval Forces are composed by; 14 submarines, 26 frigates, 22 fast patrol boats, 21 mine sweepers or hunters or layers, 50 various landing ships, 30 various maritime patrol aircraft or helicopters, and amphibious brigade. Navy's subordinate commands are; Fleet Command, Northern Sea Area Command, and Naval Training and Education Command.
Turkish Air Forces are composed by; 19 combat squadrons, 2 reconnaissance squadrons, 5 training squadrons, 6 transportation squadrons, 1 tanker squadron, and 8 surface to air missile (SAM) squadrons. These units are organized into; 2 tactical air forces (1st TAF HQ in Eskisehir and 2nd TAF HQ in Diyarbakir), 2 main air transport bases, tanker base, air training, and air logistics commands. After US Air Forces, Turkish Air Forces have the most number of F-16 aircrafts (217 pieces) in the world, with a total of 370 fighter jets. There are also Drones, AWACS, Tanker planes in their inventory. Turkish Air Forces can participate in exercises conducted overseas flying non-stop thanks to their in-air refueling capability with tanker planes.
Turks had been always good soldiers since the times of the Turkic States and during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods. Especially during the Ottomans, the famous Janissaries were feared by all Europeans. But towards the end of the Ottoman Empire a new army had to be found because the defeat of its allies determined the end of the Empire, with the country being invaded and its army disarmed.
The last major battle of the Turkish Army was in early 1920's under the command of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during the Turkish independence war after World War I. Between 1920-1923 the Army had to fight against Russian and Armenian militaries on the Eastern front, against Italian, French, and British militaries on the Southern front, and against Greek military on the western front. Gallipoli War was one of the most dramatic and heroic one amongst all. During World War II Turkey managed to stay neutral and thus the Army did not participate in any conflict until the Korean War (1950-1953). Turkey participated to this war with an infantry brigade to fight solely for humanitarian purposes and for the ideal of UN, gaining the appreciation of the world. 731 Turkish soldiers were killed in action (KIA) in Korea.
Turkey joined NATO on 18th of February 1952, and Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe (LANDSOUTHEAST) was established same year in Izmir (JCSE - Joint Command Southeast today). Today, the number of NATO members reached from the original 12 to 28 (Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States).
On 20th of July 1974, Turkey had to intervene on Cyprus crisis as one of the peace Guarantor Powers (Turkey, Greece, Britain) on the Island according to International Treaties of 1958 in Zurich and 1959 in London, to end a coup sponsored by Greek paramilitary group EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston, National Organization of Freedom Fighters) and still continues to maintain military presence there with the Cyprus Turkish Peace Forces connected to the Aegean Army.
The Turkish army has been engaged in a conflict with the separatist and terrorist groups since the early 1980's, mainly concentrated in southeastern Turkey. Especially the 1st Commando Brigade based in Kayseri, the 2nd Commando Brigade based in Bolu, and the Amphibious Marine Brigade (3rd Commando Brigade) based in Foca / Izmir were deployed there for the fights and they were awarded with the "Distinguished Courage Medal of the Turkish Armed Forces".
After Korean War, Turkey has taken part in many Peace Support Operations joint with NATO for the regional and global peace, both military and un-military operations:
- Between 1993-1994, Turkish Army took part in the Operation United Shield responding to famine conditions in Somalia (UNOSOM). A Turkish Lieutenant General (Cevik Bir) was assigned for one period to command UN Peace Keeping Force.
- Operation Sharp Guard and Operation Deny Flight for Air Force patrol and escort missions over Bosnia between 1994-1995 and 1996-Present (UNPROFOR and IFOR/SFOR). In 2004 European Force (EUFOR) took over the responsibility of this force from NATO, but Turkey continued to participate in this Operation with a mechanized Battalion Task Force in Zenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
- Albania (ALBA) in 1997.
- Air Force patrol, escort and strike operations over Kosovo contributing with a Battalion Task Force between 1999 - Present (KFOR and AFOR).
- Operation Essential Harvest, conducted to disarm the Albanian militants in Macedonia, with a Company in 2001 around Petrovac region. Turkish military personnel was present also during Operation Amber Fox which began in 2001.
- Operation Continual Freedom in Afghanistan between 2002-2003 and 2005-Present (ISAF). Turkey assumed the command of ISAF a couple of times in 2002, 2005, and lately in 2009. Turkish Army is still carrying out its mission with a company in the international assistance force in Kabul as a part of Resolute Support Mission (RSM) after 2015, which is a non-combattant mission.
- Several un-military observation and military consultation missions to support the UN in Bosnia-Herzegovina (UNMIBH and IPTF), East Timor, Georgia (UNOMIG), Al-Khalil in the West Bank (TIPH), Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM).
- Participating in international joined help operations by NATO into areas where natural disasters occur or civil wars break out, such as sending air support and cargo carriers to the USA after Katrina disaster in 2005, or to Pakistan after the big earthquake in 2005, or to Darfur - Sudan in order to stop the violence between 2005-2010 (UNMIS).
- By the end of 2006, Turkish Army have sent its peace keeping forces into southern Lebanon for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
- When the turmoil in Libya posed a threat to global peace and international security, UN Security Council adopted some Resolutions in 2011 and Turkey participated in the NATO Operation Unified Protector (OUP) in Libya with four frigates, one submarine, one logistic support ship, six F-16 air defence aircraft, two KC-135 tanker aircraft, one Special Forces staff personnel, ship based helicopters, Underwater Demolition Team and Amphibious and Underwater Teams.
- In 2013 United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) was established with the Resolution of UN Security Council, to which personnel from Turkish Army has been assigned.
- In accordance with the Resolution of UN Security Council for Operation Ocean Shield and CTF-151, in 2014 Turkey has assigned naval components of Turkish Armed Forces to Aden Gulf, Somalia territorial waters and high seas off the coast and adjacent areas with allied countries' naval forces in order to fight against armed robbery and piracy. Turkey is contributing to the activities in the region with warship, assuming the command of CTF-151 for three times and NATO Operation Ocean Shield once.
- In 2016-2017 Turkey started and still continues the Operation "Euphrates Shield" against ISIS and PYD/PKK groups with the support of FSA (Free Syrian Army) and Allies (USA, Russia).
Most of the equipment and weapons systems used by the Turkish Armed Forces is of US origin. Today, other main weapons suppliers of Turkey are Germany, Israel, England, France and Russia. Lately, locally developed weapons such as combat rifles for infantry (MPT-76), long range Howitzer cannons (Firtina Obüs), un-manned armed drones (Bayraktar IHA) etc are being suplied to the Army by national weapon factories. Also, national projects for armored tanks (Altay), warships (Milgem), and war planes are carried out by Turkish state and private institutions.
Turkish Armed Forces are greater than those of France and Britain combined, with 570,000 men under arms and 429,000 in reserve, plus a robust air force with American fighters. Actually, it's the 2nd largest standing force in NATO after the United States, and 8th biggest number of active troops in the world.
In peace time, Turkish Armed Forces are ready to perform Disaster Relief Operations as was in recent earthquakes in Marmara Region. After August 17, 1999 Earthquake, Turkish Armed Forces improved its capabilities on specialized Search And Rescue (SAR) missions in order to better cope with large scale natural disasters.
Source: Turkish Armed Forces, NATO, and military reviews