- Title: Pleading innocence, wanted general says Turkey's purge ruining military
- Date: 23rd November 2016
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (FILE – OCTOBER, 2016) (REUTERS) VARIOUS EXTERIORS OF NATO HEADQUARTERS
- Embargoed: 8th December 2016 16:29
- Keywords: Turkey military general arrests NATO Yalinalp coup Erdogan
- Location: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM / ISTANBUL, KONYA AIRPORT AND ADANA, TURKEY
- City: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM / ISTANBUL, KONYA AIRPORT AND ADANA, TURKEY
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace
- Reuters ID: LVA00359O0OJR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:A sacked Turkish general, wanted in connection with a failed coup attempt in July, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday (November 22) that the government's purge of top commanders and pilots is inflicting deep long-term damage on the second-biggest army in NATO.
Mehmet Yalinalp, who was head of NATO's air command strategy in Germany at the time of the coup attempt, said he was fired a week later. He is one of hundreds of Turkish NATO officers to be have been dismissed, some of whom have requested asylum in Europe.
"The impact is disastrous, I need to be honest here. I need to tell the truth, I think the impact is disastrous because for every department or institution the most critical resource is the human capital. Your people. If you lose your trained skillful people, if you lose your honest, trustworthy people, then I think you have a major problem," he said, referring to officers held in prison awaiting trial.
Beyond his anger at the destruction of his career, Yalinalp said the purge had sapped morale, undermined competence and left the military without enough pilots to fly its F16 jets.
Turkish officials roundly reject such suggestions. They say the military has become more loyal and effective with the removal of rogue officers, some of whom commandeered tanks, jets and helicopters in their attempt to seize power.
Since the coup attempt, Turkey has launched a successful military incursion into Syria to clear Islamic State militants from its border, and stepped up its campaign against Kurdish militants in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq.
That is evidence, the officials say, that it is able to maintain its commitments to NATO and keep defending Turkey.
NATO, which condemned the coup attempt, considers Turkey a crucial ally in the war against Islamic State, strategically located between West and East and bordering both Syria and Iraq.
The alliance started deploying Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance planes out of Turkey to help the U.S-led coalition to fight against Islamic State in October. They will be used for reconnaissance in support of air strikes against Islamic State targets.
But Yalinalp said that while the 5,000-or-so military officers purged was a fraction of Turkey's almost 400,000-strong army, they were the best educated on whose experience the military depended. Around 150 of Turkey's roughly 360 generals have been detained since the abortive coup.
"It's not easy to recover back to your old level although you do a lot to achieve that. I think it might take some years, even some decades, to go back to our level prior to what has happened," he told Reuters.
Turkey's air force in September made a public appeal to hundreds of former pilots to return to its depleted ranks.
Turkey has sacked or suspended more than 125,000 state officials, from soldiers and police officers to tax inspectors and judges, since the July coup attempt, drawing condemnation from Western allies and rights groups and shaking confidence in the country's democratic credentials.
President Tayyip Erdogan has rejected criticism of the purges, accusing the West of siding with coup plotters, and has suggested Turkey could become part of a security bloc dominated by NATO's Cold War foe Russia.
"If the country changes its axis from West to East, from NATO to some other organisations, from United States, Europe, European Union to some other directions, I'm afraid that could also mean that we are preferring some values of different regions, different people, who have a different mindset," Yalinalp said.
The air force played a major role in the abortive putsch, in which more than 240 people, most of them civilians, were killed.
Yalinalp was also one of a small group of senior officers to win surprise promotion in 2014, becoming brigadier general and posted to NATO's Ramstein air base in Germany.
At least seven others in that group have been jailed pending trial on suspicion of playing key roles in the coup attempt, according to Turkish media.
Yalinalp told Reuters the arrests had been targeting people sharing a strong belief in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's values.
"What I see is, the number of people who have this common denominator, like having strong belief in Ataturk's founding principles of our state: democracy, freedom of speech, openness, integration with the West in values of course, have been pulled into a list of purge and they are pushed away from the government," he said.
Ataturk founded modern Turkey in 1923, forging the secular republic from the ruins of an Ottoman theocracy and banishing Islam from public life.
Erdogan has cautiously pushed a conservative Islamist agenda since the AKP came to power in 2002. Opponents see in his promotion of religious education, tighter laws on alcohol, and strictures on daily life an attempt to undermine the country's secular foundations.
Although Yalinalp condemned the coup, he added he believed a number of those arrested had not taken part.
"For the time being, there are almost 150 generals in custody. We have around 350 generals in total in our military. There are some thousands of officers and non-commissioned officers who have been either ejected or put in custody. I believe, if the coup was supported by almost half of your army, then it would have been a very different case. My basic question is 'Why so many people, even they are being accused to be a part of this illegal organisation, and they are in custody, have not participated at all in the coup," he said.
Turkey declared a three-month state of emergency after the coup and Yalinalp said that although the measure was necessary, some government officials had abused it.
"What I mean is some government officials manipulated these orders to expel innocent people like me, and as you know I'm only one of the thousands of people who have no idea why we have been expelled, how come the decisions are made and how we can pursue our legal rights to defend ourselves against these decisions," he said.
According to Yalinalp, the main evidence against him is a list of Turkish generals provided by coup plotters. According to a decree published in Turkey's Official Gazette on August 1, Yalinalp was reassigned to Ankara by the defence ministry along with 43 other generals. He said other officers who returned had been arrested.
Asked about the status of Yalinalp, a senior security official said there was an arrest warrant for him and he would be detained if he entered the country. The official said the issuing of such a warrant meant that there was concrete evidence against the general, based on the testimony of another suspect or from his usage of a smartphone messaging app believed by the authorities to have been used by the coup plotters.
Yalinalp said he was never told specifically what the accusations against him are and disputes there is any evidence against him.
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