Identities of Turkish commandos who tried to kill Erdoğan will tell us more about coup plotters’ motives

Originally produced for Armed Politics July 2016

Members of an elite Turkish commando unit who attempted to assasinate President Erdoğan are still at large and are being hunted by Turkish security forces. The search operation has been underway since the night of the coup but the remaining members have still managed to evade capture. The teams, from among the Turkish army’s elite, descended on to the hotel where the president was staying from helicopters on ropes and immediately opened fire, reports say.

The president escaped but a number of his aides were killed in the attack. The soldiers subsequently fled. Some were captured last week but others remain at large. The surrounding forests, villages and coastlines are being intensively searched. Turkish coast guard reportedly searched a small boat which had put to see from the nearby coast but to no avail.

The fact that these soldiers are still at large and may try to complete their mission and kill the president must be a worry for the Turkish government. But even more that this, the fact that such elite units took part in this attack poses a longer term problem. A lot of the army’s institutional knowledge was wrapped up in those who the government has removed. This will inevitably have an effect on the operability of the Turkish army. Not only will these units have to be replaced, collective knowledge and abilities, things which cannot easily be recorded, will doubtless be lost.

Another aspect worth considering is the motivations and loyalties of these soldiers. Being charged with one of, if not, the most critical parts of the coup, means they would have been carefully selected and integral to the operation. As we find out more about these soliers’ backgrounds, we will gain a better understanding of exactly how and why the coup plotters struck when they did.

One member of the team, Zekeriya Kuzu, who was captured last week, was claimed to have had no connection to the Gülen movement, which the government claims was behind the attack. This stoked conspiracy theories that the government organized the coup itself to shore up its support. However, more details have emerged which do in fact link Kuzu to the organization. In this way, the more we know about this key team in the attack, the better we can understand the events surrounding this historic night for Turkey.

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