ASPEN, Colo. (Reuters) - Turkey’s purge of its military after a failed coup attempt is hindering cooperation in the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, said on Thursday.
The purge has swept aside many Turkish officers who dealt with the United States and landed some of them in jail, Clapper and head of U.S. Central Command General Joseph Votel said while both were speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.
Turkey launched a major overhaul of NATO’s second-biggest military after the abortive coup, in which Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan narrowly escaped capture and possible death. Nearly 1,700 military personnel received dishonorable discharges over their alleged role in the July 15-16 putsch, including around 40 percent of Turkey’s admirals and generals.
Around a third of Turkey’s roughly 360 generals were detained, and more than 100 of them have already been charged pending trial.
Turkey hosts American troops and warplanes at Incirlik Air Base, from which the United States flies sorties against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. Those air operations were temporarily halted following the coup attempt.
Clapper, asked about the impact of events in Turkey on the fight against Islamic State, replied: “It’s having an effect, because it’s affected all segments of the national security apparatus in Turkey.”
“Many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested,” he added. “There’s no question this is going to set back and make more difficult cooperation with the Turks.”
Asked whether Turkish military figures whom the United States has worked with are in detention, Votel said: “Yes, I think some of them are in jail.”
Votel said while normal operations have resumed at Incirlik, he is worried about “longer-term” impacts from the failed coup on counter-terrorism operations.
“We’ve certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders, military leaders in particular,” he said. “I am concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we kind of continue to move forward.”
Beyond Incirlik, there are other “frictions” in the U.S.-Turkish relationship that are impacting U.S. operations, Votel said, though he did not elaborate.
“We’ve got ways to mitigate that, to manage that right now,” he said. “And we are.”
Turkey is also host to a CIA base from which the agency has been supporting moderate Syrian rebel forces, U.S. listening posts, and an early warning radar for NATO’s European missile defense system. But U.S. officials have criticized Turkey’s slow pace in sealing its border with Syria to foreign fighters.
Erdogan has accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup, and the Turkish foreign minister said on Monday that ties with the United States will be affected if the United States does not extradite him.
Erdogan wants the armed forces and national intelligence agency brought under the control of the presidency, a parliamentary official said on Thursday.
CNN Turk has reported that more than 15,000 people, including around 10,000 soldiers, have been detained so far over the coup. Of those, more than 8,000 were formally arrested pending trial, it said.
Writing by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Tom Brown