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Turkish Special Operations Forces Overview

Conducting counter-terrorism & counter-insurgency operations along border with Syria & Iraq


The security environment is a particularly active one for Turkey’s Special Forces Command (SFC) currently, as its units continue to conduct counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations along its southern border with Syria and Iraq. According to official figures released by Turkey’s Interior Ministry, the SFC contributed to an undisclosed number of the 130,640 internal security operations in the country during 2018.

These operations, many of which were conducted in a joint capacity with the Gendarmerie Special Operations Command, resulted in the neutralisation of 1,746 terrorists, many of whom were associated with remnants of Islamic State as well as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates, including the Gülenist Terror Organisation. Special reconnaissance missions were in some cases used to trigger ground and helicopter assault forces employed to secure high value targets, weapons caches and training camps, the statistics revealed.

The SFC is a, “strategic and multi-purpose force with flexible command system, organised specifically to perform specialised operations and meet various requirements of the [Turkish General Staff],” according to official doctrine. Force components include Army Special Forces Command (OKK), which includes the Combat Search and Rescue (SAR) Team (MAK); the Navy’s Underwater Offensive Group Command (SAT) and Underwater Defence Group Command (SAS); the Air Force’s Special Aviation Group; and Gendarmerie Special Operations Command (SOC). 

The SFC continues in its efforts to increase manpower, following a January 2018 declaration by the MoD that is seeks an additional 900 operators in order to keep pace with developing mission requirements.

On 20 January 2018, the SFC participated in Operation “Olive Branch,” which focused on direct action in the Syrian towns of Azaz and Afrin targeting PKK affiliates and the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which has been supported by the US DoD. Sources suggested to MT that such actions have brought the SFC into direct opposition with its US counterparts – a problematic situation, given SFC’s contributions to NATO special operations, including the NATO Response Force (NRF) Special Operations Component Command.

Ongoing operations along the border with Syria have included cooperation with the Free Syrian Army, with SFC personnel conducting a military assistance campaign to help develop the small unit tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) of small unit teams. Additionally, SFC units have conducted special reconnaissance missions to find and fix targets in order to trigger follow-on direct action missions.
Maritime units within the SFC continue to rotate through multi-national operations in the Gulf of Aden to support counter-piracy operations, which include maritime interdiction and visit, board, search and seizure serials, MT understands.

The command also continues to support an active training programme in order to further extend relationships, cooperation and interoperability with NATO and other partner forces around the world. Highlights include regular participation in NATO Special Operations Headquarters-endorsed special operations courses such as the Tactical Combat Casualty Care course at the International SOF Training Centre (ISTC) in Pfullendorf, Germany. The latest exercise, conducted in July 2018, provided SFC elements with the opportunity to work alongside SOF counterparts from Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey and the US. SFC also manages a Military Free-fall Parachute Training Centre, which hosts NATO SOF partners as a Centre of Excellence for airborne insertion drills.

In April 2018, SFC operators from the Gendarmerie SOC also participated in the Annual Warrior Competition in Amman, Jordan, once again leveraging the opportunity to increase ties with SOF partners from 22 European, Middle Eastern and Asian nations as well as the US. The command also partners with Asian SOF units, including Pakistan’s Army and Navy Special Service Groups, as part of the annual Ataturk and Jinnah joint training programmes.

Finally, SFC continues upgrade its materiel as operational roles and frequency increase. Many equipment programmes fall in line with NATO standards, with some of the most recent acquisitions including Heckler & Koch 5.56mm HK416 carbines and 9mm MP5A3 submachine guns.
In April 2018, the SFC received new combat uniforms, in line with NATO requirements, to optimise signature management and avoid detection on the battlefield. Troops are also supported by a fleet of CH-47F CHINOOK helicopters, with latest updates including avionics improvements to support low-level insertion/extraction missions.

Andrew White


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