Top U.S. General Joseph Dunford told reporters his Monday visit to Ankara, Turkey, was “very positive” despite the government’s complete blockade of a U.S.-NATO base Saturday.
Dunford continued that his meetings with high-level Turkish officials were “not accusatory at all.” Dunford’s comments starkly contrast with Turkey’s surrounding of Incrilik airbase, and recent accusations that the U.S. is siding with coup plotters against Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Incrilik airbase is a critical U.S. airbase for operations against ISIS, and houses some U.S. nuclear weapons.
Secular elements of the Turkish military attempted a July 15 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, alleging the Turkish president was amassing too much power and becoming too Islamist. Erdogan has since fired hundreds of senior military commanders and imprisoned nearly 50,000 people, moving the country closer to an authoritarian regime. Turkey also cut off power for nearly a week at Incrilik airbase after the coup, endangering U.S. Anti-ISIS operations and concerning senior U.S. policymakers.
U.S. Army General Joseph Votel voiced concern last week that many of the most effective elements of the Turkish military were being purged by Erdogan, and that U.S. efforts against ISIS may suffer. Director of National Intelligence Eric Clapper concurred with Votel last week saying, “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 U.S.’s Middle East strategy.”
Erdogan sharply criticized Votel’s comments, telling local Turkish media Friday, “Instead of thanking this country which repelled a coup attempt, you take the side of the coup plotters.” Ankara’s mayor has also been reportedly stoking a social media campaign agitating for the U.S. and NATO to leave Incrilik airbase.
Erdogan believes the followers of a Turkish imam and U.S. resident, Fethullah Gulen, are responsible for the coup. Erdogan has demanded the U.S. extradite Gulen, but the U.S. has said any extradition request must be processed through the U.S. justice system, which is a codified due process. Dunford confirmed Turkish officials repeatedly made references to Gulen’s extradition, despite his complete uninvolvement in the process.
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