US Top Soldier Strongly Condemns Coup Attempt in Turkey

579f5d080f254478c0452c4bAmerica’s highest-ranking military officer sought on Monday to soothe strained ties with NATO ally Turkey, which was angered by the West’s response to a failed military coup and by an apparent U.S. reluctance to hand over the cleric it says was responsible.

The fallout from the abortive coup on July 15, in which more than 230 people were killed as mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in a bid to seize power, has deepened a rift between Ankara and its Western allies.

President Tayyip Erdoğan and many Turks have been frustrated by U.S. and European criticism of a government crackdown in the wake of the attempted putsch in Turkey, a country vital to the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State and to stopping illegal migration to Europe.

They have accused Western leaders of being more concerned about the rights of the plotters than the gravity of the threat to a NATO member state.

More than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service and education have been detained, suspended or placed under investigation since the coup, prompting fears that Erdogan is pursuing an indiscriminate crackdown on all forms of dissent.

“It is important that the United States, our friend and ally, display a clear and decisive stance against this terrorist coup attempt against our nation and democracy,”yıldırım told chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford during their meeting in Ankara.

Condemning the failed coup in Turkey, Dunford, the principal military adviser to the American president, said his visit was to show solidarity and added that the U.S. was fully supportive of the Turkish democracy, a statement from Yildirim’s office on the meeting said.

Earlier on Monday, about 150 protesters marched to the U.S. embassy in Ankara to protest against Dunford’s visit. “Coup plotter Dunford get out of Turkey,” the crowd chanted as it walked down a central Ankara street to the embassy, where Turkish police kept them at a distance from the building.

“Dunford go home. Send us Fethullah,” said one banner, in reference to U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network of followers in the military and state institutions are blamed by Erdogan for orchestrating the coup plot.

The 75-year-old cleric, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies any involvement in the failed coup. President Barack Obama has said Washington will only extradite him if Turkey provides evidence of wrongdoing.

Dunford also met his Turkish counterpart and U.S. personnel stationed at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, used by the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against Islamic State.

The scale of the purges, which have seen around 40 percent of generals and admirals dismissed, along with suggestions from officials that the death penalty may be reintroduced, have alarmed Western states nervous about Erdoğan’s tightening grip.

Erdoğan has vowed to rid state institutions of what he has termed the Gulenist “cancer”. “What’s worrying is that this is a one-man show in Ankara now,” said one senior EU official who has been involved in Turkey’s long-stalled efforts to join the bloc.

“Post-coup emotion is very understandable, but we now see a ‘coup after the coup’,” the official said.