U.S. general denies involvement in Turkish coup attempt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, on Friday rejected claims by Turkish officials that he supported a failed coup attempt earlier this month.

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command, briefs the media at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S. April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

“Any reporting that I had anything to do with the recent unsuccessful coup attempt in Turkey is unfortunate and completely inaccurate,” Votel said, according to the statement from U.S. Central Command.

Turkey has undertaken purges of its military and other state institutions following the failed coup, targeting the supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15-16 coup attempt.

Turkey’s Western allies condemned the coup attempt, in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, but they have been rattled by the scale of the crackdown.

Votel issued his statement after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan condemned Votel’s earlier remarks that some military figures the United States had worked with were in jail as a result of the purge.

On Thursday, Votel said at a public forum that he was worried about “longer-term” impacts from the failed coup on counter-terrorism operations and the United States’ relationship with the Turkish military.

Those comments drew a condemnation on Friday from Erdogan.

“Instead of thanking this country which repelled a coup attempt, you take the side of the coup plotters. The putschist is in your country already,” Erdogan said, referring to Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

Turkey’s cooperation in the fight against Islamic State is of paramount importance to Washington. It is a central part of the U.S.-led military operation against Islamic State, hosting U.S. 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.

“Turkey has been an extraordinary and vital partner in the region for many years,” Votel said in his statement. “We appreciate Turkey’s continuing cooperation and look forward to our future partnership in the counter-ISIL fight,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Idrees Ali; Editing by David Gregorio