Questions linger over canceled military drills in the Aegean

The idea that the cancellation was made as a unilateral gesture to Greece has been ruled out.

The last-minute cancellation of two key military exercises, a first for the Turkish military, has filled the capital with speculations as to the reasons behind the decision, which have not been revealed.

The idea that the cancellation was made as a unilateral gesture to Greece has, however, been ruled out.

Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner met with Turkish President Abdullah Gül in an unscheduled meeting late Wednesday, likely to discuss the military’s decision to call off the Efes-2011 and Denizkurdu-2011 military drills.

The cancellation was announced late Tuesday by the chief of General Staff through a brief statement released on its website. The statement did not say why the drills had been canceled and there had been no further explanation from the chief of General Staff when the Hürriyet Daily News went to press late Wednesday.

The only public statement on the matter came from Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül, who said Wednesday that “the cancellation was at behest of the military.”

“The information I got is that it was canceled as a result of their internal evaluation,” he said, adding that he had been scheduled to watch the exercise.

The Efes-2011 exercise began May 3 and was scheduled to be completed May 29, while the Denizkurdu-2011 one was launched May 16 and was scheduled to end May 26. Because of this, what the chief of General Staff called off was only the last, and mostly ceremonial, parts of the exercises.

A reaction against the gov’t

One of the scenarios discussed in Ankara has been the idea that the cancellations could be seen as a reaction against the government, especially after the arrest of many high-ranking naval officers as part of an ongoing case. A prosecutor recently sought a life sentence for Vice Adm. Kadir Sağdıç, commander of the Southern Sea Area Command, on charges of trying to topple the government.

The fact that neither President Gül nor Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would attend the closure ceremonies of the exercises may have also pushed the military to call off the last phase of the drills. The meeting between Gül and Gen. Koşaner was seen in this context by many observers in the capital.

No foreign policy dimension

Foreign Ministry officials said they had been unaware of the cancellation of the drills and were left uninformed about the reason for the move, though they have sought an answer from the chief of General Staff. “We were told that it has been canceled due to a military-technical reason,” a senior official told the Daily News.

The official ruled out the possibility of a unilateral gesture to Greece. “Turkish jets were intercepted by Greek jets almost every day during the implementation of the Denizkurdu exercise. How could we show them a gesture?” the official asked.

The cancellation also came as a surprise to diplomatic missions in Ankara. “Nobody seems to understand the reason behind the cancellation,” a senior foreign diplomat told the Daily News on condition of anonymity. “But we don’t think it could be a show of goodwill toward Greece.”

Greek delegation in Ankara

A low-ranking Greek military delegation has meanwhile held talks in Ankara with the Turkish chief of General Staff to review the implementation of the existing confidence-building measures. Diplomatic sources said the talks were focused on existing measures and there was no expectation on either side to bring about fresh proposals to boost the measures.

Serkan Demirtas, HDN