US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford will pay a visit to Turkey at a time when tensions between Washington and Ankara have increased over the fate of US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen in the wake of the failed coup attempt.
The government blames Gulen and his supporters for the botched putsch and is demanding the extradition of the cleric. The US says it needs evidence regarding Gulen’s involvement to hand him over to Turkey.
Gen. Dunford is expected to visit first Incirlik air base in Turkey’s southeast, which is used by US-led coalition forces for missions against Islamic State. After visiting Incirlik, Dunford will travel to Ankara where he will meet with PM Binali Yildirim and his Turkish counterpart Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Akar.
The visit comes days after a top US general’s comments over the post-coup arrests angered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. US Central Command Commander General Votel said last week that some of the Turkish officers who were arrested worked closely with the US on the fight against Islamic State. “I am concerned it will impact the level of cooperation and collaboration that we have with Turkey,” Votel commented.
Erdogan responded without mentioning Votel by name: “This general should be praising Turkey for defeating the coup attempt, but he instead is standing by the plotters.”
Over the weekend, Turkey’s government announced a major overhaul of the military. Among the moves, the government decided to close all military schools and to put the armed forces under the command of the Ministry of Defence. Also, nearly 1,400 members of the army have been dismissed for their links to Gulen. Last week, the government discharged more than 1,600 personnel from the military, including 149 generals and admirals. The military said only 1.5% of the army took part in the putsch.
Meanwhile, Erdogan will withdraw all lawsuits against those who are charged with insulting the president. “As a one-off gesture, I withdraw all the cases filed for insulting me and forgive all the offenders,” he said, state-run broadcaster TRT reported.
All opposition parties in parliament stood by the government during and after the coup attempt. The main opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) organised a large pro-democracy rally in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on July 24. Some senior figures from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) also attended the rally, which the CHP says attracted more than 1mn people.
It seems clear Erdogan does not want to spoil the environment of “national unity” that has emerged after the coup attempt, which left more than 200 people dead and 2,000 injured. Thousands of people across the country have come out onto the streets each night to show their support for the government.