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Turkish fury after top US general voices concerns over post-coup relations

Turkish president says US Centcom chief is 'taking side of coup plotters' after raising concerns about future of US-Turkey military cooperation
Erdogan visits the Police Special Operation Department's Headquarters in Ankara on Friday (AFP/Turkish Presidential Press Office)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday accused a top US general of being on the side of Turkey's coup plotters after commenting that the country's turmoil could downgrade military cooperation with Washington.

"You are taking the side of coup plotters instead of thanking this state for defeating the coup attempt," Erdogan said in angry remarks at a military centre in Golbasi outside Ankara, where air strikes left dozens dead during the failed putsch on 15 July.

"You reveal yourself with your remarks. We will not play your game!" he said.

Turkey has arrested nearly half of its 358 generals for alleged complicity in the plot, forcing a sudden reshuffle at the top of the armed forces and raising fears over the continuity of its military strategy.

During the Aspen Institute's annual security forum on Thursday, US Central Command (Centcom) chief General Joseph Votel said some of the officers arrested and accused of assisting in the coup attempt were key US contacts and their imprisonment affected American military cooperation with Turkey.

“We have certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders - military leaders in particular. I am concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we continue," he said.

Until now, Votel said, cooperation and collaboration with Turkey had been "excellent frankly".

At the same event later on in the day, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said there was "no question" that the arrest of American interlocutors would "set back and make more difficult the US's Middle East strategy".

The push back over the US officials' comments is the latest incident that has seen tensions between the US and Turkey rise in the wake of the coup, with at least one Turkish media outlet claiming that a US official was behind the coup.

The diplomatic strain is largely over the US-based Muslim cleric Fehullah Gulen whom the Turkish government holds was the mastermind behind the coup and has put pressure on the US to extradite.  

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the US would consider an extradition request, but the government would need to submit evidence which "withstands scrutiny". Turkey's foreign and justice ministers are now scheduled to travel to the US to demand Gulen's return.

In his comments directed at Votel on Friday, Erdogan referenced Gulen: "The coup plotter is already in your country, you are already feeding him."

Adding to the complexities in the already sensitive relationship, the US-led coalition uses the Turkish air base Incirlik for launching raids against the Islamic State group in Syria - but the base turned out to be an important site for the coup plotters. Its commander General Bekir Ercan Van was arrested and electricity was cut to the base for several days.

Turkish Labour Minister Suleyman Soylu even suggested that the United States was behind the coup, but this view has not been echoed by more senior figures.

"Why such a rumour would still be propagated or still be able to find purchase over there, I couldn't begin to guess," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara that the notion the consequences of the coup would undermine the armed forces in the fight against IS were "ridiculous" and "unfortunate".

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