In Turkey / Türkiye

By Michael S. Schmidt and Tim Arango, New York Times, Monday, Aug 1, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey — In the two weeks since a failed coup, Turkish officials and the pro-government media have whipped up anti-American sentiment by suggesting that the United States played some role in the botched conspiracy to topple the government.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. meets with Turkish officials during visit to Ankara on  Aug. 1, 2016 (U.S. Dept of Defense photo)

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. meets with Turkish officials during visit to Ankara on Aug. 1, 2016 (U.S. Dept of Defense photo)

But when Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Monday with officials in the Turkish capital he heard far more measured tones.

The top Turkish military officer and the prime minister, Binali Yildirim, both told him they want the two countries to continue their close relationship, particularly in efforts to defeat the Islamic State, General Dunford said.

The officials did not raise a single question with General Dunford about whether the United States had played a role in the coup attempt. Their silence highlights a common tactic among Turkish officials to denounce the United States to their own public while reassuring American officials privately that they are committed to a strategic partnership.

“One thing that was very clear to me is that they believe, as I do, that Turkey and the United States working together against ISIL is a hell of a lot better than us not working together,” General Dunford said after the meetings, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

In the days after the coup attempt by a rebel faction of the military, some American military operations against the Islamic State were halted because Turkey would not allow American fighter planes stationed at Incirlik Air Base, in the southern part of the country, to take off. Turkey closed the base, in part, because they believed a tanker plane from there had been used to refuel Turkish fighter jets that carried out strikes for the coup plotters.

The Turkish head of the base was arrested and accused of a role in the coup, and for more than a week electricity was cut off, forcing the Americans there to rely on generators. There have also been protests outside the base, where some Turks have called for the United States to leave. General Dunford said the Turkish leaders told him that the United States would continue to have access to the base and others in the country. He also said that every Turkish leader he met, including the speaker of Parliament, had told him that they wanted the United States to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania and who they have accused of organizing the plot.

“The tone in all three meetings was very positive, not accusatory at all,” the general said. “On the contrary, they expressed the importance of the partnership but did state how important it was for Gulen to be repatriated.”

He said he told the Turks that he would relay their perspective to senior American leaders, although the Obama administration is already well aware of their concerns. Turkey has already sent a dossier of evidence alleging that Mr. Gulen was involved in the coup to the White House, and said it would begin formal extradition proceedings.

Between meetings, General Dunford toured the Parliament building that was damaged by helicopter gunfire and four bombs that were dropped from fighter planes while lawmakers were inside.

Hours before General Dunford’s visit, Turkish forces flying attack helicopters and drones raided a forested area in southwestern Turkey, capturing a fugitive unit of commandos who had tried to assassinate or kidnap President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month during the attempted coup. The commandos had been on the run since early on July 16, when they attacked a seaside hotel in Marmaris where Mr. Erdogan had been vacationing.

The president slipped away just before the commandos’ helicopters arrived, however, in one of the most dramatic events in a night of violence that left more than 250 people dead. Residents of the Marmaris area were apparently boar hunting when they spotted the fugitive commandos, according to officials. “We thought there was suspicious activity when we saw the men in the forest,” a witness said in an interview on the private news channel CNN Turk. “But we knew for sure when the authorities showed us pictures of the men.”

In the overnight raid, special forces captured 11 commandos thought to have been part of the plot against Mr. Erdogan’s life, with one suspect still at large, Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said in a news conference on Monday. More than a dozen other soldiers were already in custody and accused of being part of the operation on Mr. Erdogan’s hotel. Video footage showed suspects covered in bruises being loaded into armored vehicles as anti-coup demonstrators gathered in the area chanting, “Traitors! We want the death penalty!”

In recent days, new details have surfaced about what occurred during the coup attempt. A Turkish military official who is believed to have been part of the coup called General Dunford’s office shortly after it began, according to a Pentagon official. The person who answered the phone said that the general, who was traveling in Afghanistan, was not there. The military official then hung up the phone. The message was relayed to General Dunford in Afghanistan, who ultimately did not reach the official. The episode was first reported by BuzzFeed.

Almost immediately after the coup failed, Mr. Erdogan and his government began a vast purge of the military and state bureaucracy, arresting thousands of soldiers and dismissing tens of thousands of other state employees they accused of having links Mr. Gulen. Turkish officials have complained that Western leaders have focused more on denouncing Mr. Erdogan’s post-coup purges than on standing by Turkey as it suppressed the violent rebellion. Ankara was further annoyed when Mr. Erdogan was barred from addressing tens of thousands of Turks who gathered in Cologne, Germany, over the weekend to express support for the Turkish leadership.

American military and intelligence officials expressed concern last week about the impact that Turkey’s crackdown on the military could have on counterterrorism cooperation. Of particular note were the need to secure the border between Turkey and Syria, to prevent foreign fighters from joining Islamic State militants in the war-torn country, and joint operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

When Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the United States Central Command, made similar comments last week, Turkish officials reacted with alarm, saying the comments amounted to sympathy for the coup plotters. Mr. Erdogan, speaking to reporters recently in Ankara, referred to General Votel’s comments without mentioning him by name, saying, “Who are you? You have got to know your place. Instead of thanking this government for thwarting this coup attempt and for maintaining democracy, you are standing by the putschists.”

General Dunford said that none of the leaders he met with had raised concerns about General Votel’s comments, and instead focused their discussions on fortifying the bilateral relationship. “Look, this is a common enemy and they are trying to internally as well in the relationship with us quickly return to normal in taking the fight to ISIL,” he said.

Michael S. Schmidt reported from Ankara and Tim Arango from Istanbul. Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting from Istanbul

Dunford visit to Turkey is first by senior U.S. official since coup attempt

By Jim Garamone, U.S. Department of Defense News, Aug 1, 2016

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 1, 2016 — Though they are both national leaders, the trip here to visit Gen. Hulusi Akar of the Turkish army by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford was one friend making sure another was well after a traumatic experience.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Turkey’s chief of defense today just a little over two weeks after Akar was kidnapped, drugged and threatened as part of the unsuccessful coup here. The plotters were trying to topple the government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It failed, but more than 250 people were killed and more than 2,100 were wounded, according to Turkish figures.

Dunford is the first international leader to visit Turkey since the coup was defeated. “I’ve known General Akar – my counterpart – for a long time,” Dunford said. The general said he wanted to be sure his friend was all right.

Details of coup attempt

Dunford said Akar told him that one of his aides had turned on him and sided with the coup plotters. They kidnapped him and held a pistol to his head to get him to sign a proclamation in support of the coup. He refused. Akar was held until the coup fell apart after Erdogan rallied the Turkish people to reject the attack on democracy in the country and take on the coup plotters.

Dunford said Akar was pleased with the visit and confirmed that Turkey desires to keep a broad partnership with the United States across a broad range of issues, but especially in NATO and in countering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The chairman said Akar assured him that Turkey will continue to provide access to Turkish bases in Incirlik and Diyabakir. These bases are key to the fight against ISIL.

Akar also took Dunford to the Turkish parliament. He showed the chairman the results of the four bombs coup F-16s dropped on the building and the effects that attack helicopters had on it. Following the tour, Dunford met some Turkish lawmakers.

Meeting with prime minister

Then Dunford, Akar and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. In all of the meetings, he heard that “to deal with the challenges of the region is going to require the United States and Turkey to cooperate,” Dunford said.

“The consistent theme throughout the day was a reaffirmation of the importance of the U.S.-Turkey relationship — the need for us to cooperate,” he added. “We will have all the access we need to Incirlik, Diyabakir and other facilities as necessary to prosecute the counter-ISIL fight.”

Dunford said the tone in all the meetings was positive and “not accusatory at all.”

In all of the meetings, Dunford said, he also heard about the need for the United States to send Fethullah Gulen – a former imam who is self-exiled in Pennsylvania – back to Turkey. Turkish leaders believe he is behind the coup. “I told them that I will be sure the Turkish perspective is conveyed to my leadership,” Dunford said.

Encouraged by relationship

The chairman said he is encouraged not only about the military-to-military relationship between the two countries, but also about the broader relationship. “We have some differences on how to deal with [ISIL],” Dunford said. “But I think an express willingness to work through these issues and share perspectives will mean stability in the region.”

Akar already was scheduled for a counterpart visit to Washington this month. Dunford said he told the Turkish general that he hopes he will still come, noting that they have a lot to talk about: ISIL, bases, tactics and so on. But they did not talk about them today, he said.

“I wanted to practice a little bit of patience, recognizing that my friend had been through a traumatic experience,” the chairman said. “Me going in there with a laundry list of ‘asks’ is not appropriate for a friendship – that’s a transactional relationship – and that is not what this is. I was just glad to hear my friend’s voice again.”

Dunford’s visit to Turkey follows a visit to Iraq during his current overseas trip.

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