Top US generals' coup remarks hamper relations with Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday lashed out at the head of U.S. Central Command for siding with putschists in his remarks about the purge of military officers involved in the recent coup attempt.

US Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel.

Updated Jul 30, 2016

Controversial comments on Thursday by US Central Command Commander General Joseph Votel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have caused concern and raised suspicion on whether the US had a role or knew in advance about the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey.

Gen. Votel, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, a Colorado-based think tank, said some officers whom the US had relationships with have been imprisoned for their role in the coup attempt and added, “We have certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders - military leaders in particular. I am concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we continue.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper echoed Gen. Votel’s comments later in the day.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. AFP

Clapper said the failed coup and the government’s response to it have “affected all segments of the national security apparatus in Turkey” and “many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested. There’s no question that this is going to set back and make more difficult the US’ Middle East strategy.”

Votel also expressed concerns that in the long run, the failed coup and Turkey’s efforts to clear the military of coup supporters would have an effect on US operations in the region.

“I am concerned that it will impact the level of cooperation and collaboration that we have with Turkey which has been excellent frankly.”

In response, Erdogan lashed out at Votel, saying the U.S. general was not in a position to make such comments and meddle in the internal affairs of Turkey.

“Are you the one to decide on this [imprisonment]? Who are you? You have got to know your place,” Erdogan told a news conference Friday following a visit to the Police Department of Special Operations in capital Ankara, which was heavily attacked during the coup attempt.

“Instead of thanking this [the Turkish] government for thwarting this coup attempt, and for [maintaining] democracy, you are standing by the putschists,” Erdogan said.

The president also slammed Washington for harboring the U.S.-based preacher Fetullah Gulen, who is accused of being the mastermind of the deadly coup plot.

“The putschist [Gulen] is already in your country, you are looking after him. This is a known fact," Erdogan said.

“You can never deceive my people. My people know who is involved in this plot, and who is the mastermind. With such statements, you are just revealing yourself. Turkey will not be duped,” he added.

Turkish President Erdogan speaking at Police Special Forces Command in Golbasi, Ankara. AA

Turkish President Erdogan has accused US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of being the mastermind behind the coup, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that ties with the US will be affected if the US does not extradite him.

Additionally, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in a press briefing on Friday said the comments made by Gen. Joseph Votel and James Clapper were "unfortunate," and added "the claims that these recent arrests have hampered Turkey's capacity in the fight against DAESH, PKK and other organisations, if not made for an ulterior motive, then it must be from benightedness and ignorance."

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu addresses the media in Ankara, Turkey, July 29, 2016.

“Defining the officers who partook in FETO’s coup attempt as your allies is nonsense, if the pro-coup soldiers are the allies of the US, then the Turkish people will react to this and reaction and outrage will only grow with time.”

Votel, noting some limitations on US operations in Incirlik Air Base said the electricity problem at the base in the southern Turkish city of Adana has been resolved.

Turkish authorities cut electricity to the base after it was discovered that Turkish forces at Incirlik were involved in the coup, and two tanker aircraft took off from the base to refuel F-16’s involved in the failed putsch. The US used an internal power system to launch aircraft from the base until commercial electricity was restored earlier this week.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the difficulty for US planes accessing Incirlik might have been a result of planes flown in support of the coup using the airbase to refuel. Significantly, one of the commanders of Incirlik Air Base, General Bekir Ercan Van, was among those detained over the failed coup.

The controversial comments come after the US State Department spokesperson John Kirby’s press briefing where he said: "Obviously we had no involvement in this."

US State Department Spokesman John Kirby.

"We've made clear that we understand the Turkish government has a right and a responsibility, quite frankly, to their citizens to get to the bottom of this.”

At least 246 people, including 62 police officers, five soldiers and 179 civilians were martyred, and more than 2,100 others were wounded.

A total of 10,410 people, including 7,423 soldiers, 287 police, 2,014 judges and prosecutors, and 686 civilians have been detained, so far, for having links to FETO terror organisation.

Among the 10,410 people, 4,060 of them were arrested, while 5,581 remain in custody.

Meanwhile, more than 66,000 people employed in state institutions have been dismissed from their posts amid a nationwide probe into the unsuccessful putsch attempt.

Author: Talha Emre Iren

TRTWorld and agencies