Balkans: Operation Sledgehammer Busted


March 8, 2010: The Turkish government, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), remains locked in a war with elements of the Turkish military and Kemalist (after Kemal Ataturk, found of the Turkish Republic) elites. The AKP came to power in 2002 and is a party founded on moderate Islamist principles- or so its leader, current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claims. Since late 2002 tensions have risen on several occasions. This year, however, is a high water mark. Since early February the government has arrested or detained around 70 people, the majority retired officers. The major reason is the so-called “Operation Sledgehammer,” which was a coup plot dating back to 2003. Sledgehammer is a confused story, but the gist of it is a false crisis created by the armed forces involving a clash with Greece and including violence throughout Turkey. The military would then act to protect the country and install a caretaker government. One of the former generals arrested said that Sledgehammer, however, was an exercise and the scenario involved the downing of Greek air force aircraft by Turkish fighters. The exercise was planned by the Turkish Army's First Army (which is headquartered in Istanbul). The current Turkish Army chief of the general staff, General Ilker Basbug, has played the role of mediator between the armed forces and the AKP. Kemal Ataturk tasked the military with defending Turkey's secular state and its secular reforms. The military has launched three coups since 1960. While another coup is possible, it is not very likely. The military supports free elections and civilian government. However, many Kemalists are deeply suspicious of the AKP's motives and many believe it intends to impose Sharia (Islamic) law on Turkey. The military can wield a great deal of political power, in part because it is Turkey's most respected institution and is regarded as the country's most trusted institution. Ironically, the AKP is perceived as being less corrupt than the other major parties.

March 2, 2010: Turkish prosecutors charged General Saldiray Berk with being involved in planning acts against the government. Berk is a four-star general who command the Third Army (which is based in eastern Turkey's Erzincan province). Berk is suspected of being involved in what is called the “Ergenekon” conspiracy, which involves a large network of Turkish ultra-nationalists.

March 1, 2010: What led to the big Bosnian police raid on the village of Gornja Maoca that took place last month (February 2)? The Bosnian government has touted the raid as the largest police operation since 1995 (end of the Bosnian War). The village of Gornja Maoca has been a home to Islamist radicals. A government press release at the time of the operation said the people arrested in the raid were seeking to incite religious and ethnic hatred and seed trouble throughout Bosnia. A follow-up report said the people of Gornja Maoca are Salafists (an extreme Sunni sect – Al Qaeda is regarded as a Salafist sect). The village practiced Sharia law. The village was definitely a religious radical outpost (everyone in Bosnia knew that) but according to Bosnian media the U.S. and West European countries saw it as a likely base for Al Qaeda sympathizers. The Bosnian government (especially the Bosnian-Croat Federation component of the government) wants to be on good terms with the European Union. Now some Bosnians suspect the raid was more of a political show to appease the US and Western Europe. Why? Only seven people were arrested. Another, politically slyer interpretation is also making the rounds. Note the Bosnian government accused the radical Muslims of inciting ethnic and religious hatred. The same charge can be made against Bosnian Serb separatists in the Republika Srpska (Serb statelet within Bosnia).

February 25, 2010: Following a three-hour long meeting between Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and military chief of staff General Ilker Basbug, the Turkish government released two retired senior military officers who had been accused of plotting a coup in 2003. Eight current and retired officers are still in jail formally charged with plotting a coup. So far 20 current and retired officers face formal charges.

Turkish military chief of staff General Ilker Basbug appeared on Turkish national television and stated that the situation in Turkey between the government and the military is very serious. Turkish media reported that General Basbug and civilian officials had agreed to resolve the political crisis using what the government called constitutional processes.

February 24, 2010: Police in Athens, Greece clashed with protestors demonstrating against the Greek government's new fiscal austerity plan. Two protestors were arrested. Elsewhere in Greece, 30,000 pro-union demonstrators staged a protest march against the government.

February 22, 2010: Forty current and former Turkish military officers were arrested on charges of being involved in planning a coup attempt against the government. Turkish police arrested the officers in raids conducted in Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul.

February 18, 2010: Bosnian security officials uncovered a weapons cache, near the town of Mostar, containing 50 kilos (110 pounds) of explosives. The government said it believed the cache belonged to a radical Islamist organization.

The EU said that it may sign an association agreement with Moldova in early 2011. Moldova is interested in joining the European Union. Russia, however, opposes Moldova's accession talks.

February 17, 2010: Two years ago today Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. So far 65 countries have recognized Kosovo's independence. Serbia still argues that Kosovo's secession was illegal. Russia supports Serbia. Five members of the EU which face ethnic separatist movements, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia, do not recognize Kosovo's independence.

February 15, 2010: Transdniestr, the separatist enclave within Moldova, said that it opposes any new US and NATO missile defense plan in Romania and Bulgaria. This isn't surprising, since the Transdniestr government is protected by Russia. What is noteworthy is that Transdniestr said that it is glad to give Russia the right to base missiles in Transdniestr, should Russia decide to ask for permission.

February 10, 2010: Bosnia's Serb statelet, the Republika Srpska (RS), passed a law that gives it the right to conduct its own electoral referendums. The Bosnian Serb law violates the 1995 Dayton Accords. The idea is that the RS will conduct a referendum on secession. After Bosnian Serbs vote for secession, the RS will secede from Bosnia like Kosovo seceded from Serbia.




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