The head of U.S. Central Command was misunderstood when he commented about a recent coup attempt in Turkey, the Pentagon said Friday.
The commander of US forces in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, issued a statement Friday asserting that he had no link to the coup attempt in Turkey, an unusual move by one of the highest-ranked US military leaders.
"Any reporting that I had anything to do with the recent unsuccessful coup attempt in Turkey is unfortunate and completely inaccurate," Votel said.
"Turkey has been an extraordinary and vital partner in the region for many years. We appreciate Turkey's continuing cooperation and look forward to our future partnership in the counter-ISIL fight," the general said, referring to the DAESH group.
Votel's comments came after Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier in the day linked him to the overthrow attempt.
Erdogan on Friday accused Votel of siding with Turkey's coup plotters, a day after the general commented that some Turkish officers with whom the U.S. had relations are currently detained for their role in the attempted overthrow.
"You are taking the side of coup plotters instead of thanking this state for defeating the coup attempt," Erdogan said in fervent remarks at a military center in Golbasi near Ankara, where air strikes left dozens dead during the failed putsch on July 15.
According to US media reports, Votel had said the coup bid and subsequent round-up of dozens of generals could affect American military cooperation with Turkey.
In particular, Votel reportedly suggested the US had lost key Turkish military interlocutors who are now in jail and accused of being behind the coup.
Since the July 15 coup attempt, top Turkish and American political and military leaders, including Erdogan and President Barack Obama have assured each other about continued cooperation and partnership.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, in a press briefing said American and Turkish military counterparts at all levels are in regular communication on a daily basis.
“The United States has repeatedly condemned the failed coup in Turkey and we continue to convey our absolute support for Turkey's democratically-elected civilian government and democratic institutions,” Cook said.
According to Cook, Votel was actually referring to the fact that the U.S. is engaged in active operations with Turkey and some of the officers that the U.S. military personnel were working with are no longer on their posts, which might affect the effectiveness of the operations.
“In some instances a counterpart may not be there who you worked with directly. Now, you need to find out who that new person might be,” Cook added.
President Barack Obama's administration also weighed in, with White House spokesman Eric Schultz saying of Erdogan's accusation: "It is entirely false."
Obama considers Erdogan "a close ally" the spokesman said.
"We work together on a number of the president's international priorities including the fight against the Islamic State [DAESH]", he added.
The Turkish government has removed more than 1,648 military personnel including 149 generals. But the Supreme Military Council promoted nearly 100 officers to generals to replace those discharged, undermining Cook’s comments.
Cook told reporters that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford denounced the failed coup and categorically rejected any claims of any U.S. military officer’s involvement in the violent attempt.
Responding to Anadolu Agency correspondent’s question about whether he could assure the Turkish public that none of the coup plotters had good relations with the U.S., Cook did not directly address the question but preferred to say that no Defense Department personnel supported or played a role in the coup attempt.
“It would be a concern if that suggestion is being portrayed out there. It does not reflect the professional military relationship between our two countries,” he said, noting “excellent relations with the Turkish military.”