Turkey Taps Hard-Liner to Head Military

The government on Monday named a general who favors a tougher line on a wide range of issues, including Turkey's EU negotiations, to replace the head of the country's powerful military, who was considered a moderate.

The change, which was widely anticipated, comes as Turkey is insisting that Washington do more to crack down against Turkish Kurdish rebels operating out of bases in northern Iraq. The United States also is pressing Turkey and other countries to contribute to a possible peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, the head of land forces, was appointed during a Cabinet meeting to replace Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, the chief of staff, when Ozkok retires late August. The president approved the appointment.

CountryWatch: Turkey

During his four-year leadership, Ozkok agreed to EU-requested reforms that curtailed some of the military's extensive influence and introduced measures that increased transparency in the military.

The European Union is pressing the country to further curb the powers of the generals, who have staged three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured a pro-Islamic government out of power in 1997.

Buyukanit was expected to press for a tougher line on EU reforms and Turkey's fight against autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels. He is also likely to adopt a harder line than Ozkok against threats to the country's secular traditions, which could lead to clashes with the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"As a personality, Buyukanit is more outspoken. People who are close to him say he is more hawkish," said Lale Sariibrahimoglu, a Turkish military analyst for Jane's Defence Weekly.

Buyukanit, for example, took the bold step of criticizing the government in November for not ordering troops into Iraq after a series of attacks by Turkish Kurdish guerrillas based in the neighboring country. The United States is strongly opposed to such any cross-border incursion.

Buyukanit's outspokenness and his strong nationalist views have made him popular in Turkey, especially as Turks become increasingly disillusioned with their country's EU bid and the growing opposition in Europe to their possible membership.

The appointment came in advance of a meeting of the military's top leadership, which is expected to make a regularly scheduled series of appointments to the military's top positions. A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the extensive military changes were likely to have delayed the military's consideration of the possibility of Turkey contributing to a possible Lebanon peacekeeping force.

Ozkok embraced EU reforms, and it was under his command that military expenses were brought under increased civilian control and a civilian was named to replace a general as secretary of the National Security Council, which groups the country's top military and civilian leadership.

Ozkok also took the unprecedented step of consenting to the prosecution of several top officers for corruption.

Buyukanit is regarded as more suspicious of the EU, and some fear that he might not be willing to continue moving forward with such reforms.

But others say Turkey's EU bid is so critical to the country's future that no general would be willing to take steps that could block it.