Commander was complicit in coup attempt, official says
A U.S. Navy plane maneuvers on the runway of the Incirlik Air Base, southeastern Turkey, in July 2015. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
JULIAN E. BARNES - Wall Street Journal
Turkish officials arrested the commander of the Incirlik Air Base, which the U.S. uses to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria, for complicity in Friday’s coup attempt, U.S. and Turkish officials said Sunday.
A senior Turkish official said Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, the base commander, as well as 11 other service members from the base and a police officer, were placed under arrest.
The arrests came after Turkish F-16s operated by plotters involved in the coup attempt to refuel from two airborne tankers operating out of the Turkish portion of the air base.
It isn’t clear how the arrests could affect the base. One U.S. official said Turkey moved to put another officer in charge quickly.
Speaking on CNN, Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. operations against Islamic State won’t be interrupted because of the events in Turkey. He said the U.S. military experienced some minor difficulties, apparently because “there may have been some refueling that took place with the Turkish Air Force with planes that were flying in the coup itself.”
What We Know About the Attempted Military Coup in Turkey
EMRAH GUREL/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mr. Kerry said he expected U.S. operations would return to normal “very quickly.”
On Saturday, power to the base was cut, forcing the U.S. portion of the facility to use backup generators. Turkish officials closed the airspace around the base on Saturday. U.S. defense officials said Sunday that in consultation with Turkey the airspace had been reopened, allowing strikes against Islamic State militants to resume.
“After close coordination with our Turkish allies, they have reopened their airspace to military aircraft. As a result, counter-ISIL coalition air operations at all air bases in Turkey have resumed,” said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, referring to Islamic State by another name.
The U.S. official said the closure of the airspace appears to be a measure put in place to prevent coup plotters from escaping. A group of officers involved in the coup attempt on Saturday flew from Turkey to Greece and requested asylum.
The Incirlik base, some 60 miles from the Syrian border, is a key facility for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. Many of the U.S. strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria are conducted from the base.
After a failed military coup Friday that rocked Turkey, leaving over 250 dead, Turkish President Recep Erdogan's government has reasserted control. Loyalist elements of the Turkish military have begun seizing buildings back from the coup plotters, and more than 2,800 military personnel have been detained for questioning. Photo: Getty
While some security experts said the aftermath of the attempted coup would affect military-to-military relations, U.S. officials said they expected the relationship to get on track quickly.
“You will see a potential indictment, jailing, firing, or resignation of dozens if not hundreds of generals which will have a debilitating effect on the military’s effectiveness,” said Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Instate for Near East Policy.
Senior U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said that as top Turkish military officials are likely to remain in power any disruption in cooperation will likely be temporary.
“The top-level leadership understand the importance of the alliance,” said the U.S. official.
Although some analysts say the coup could derail Turkey’s commitment to the fight against Islamic State, Western officials said that wouldn’t be in the interests of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A senior NATO official said that Turkey now sees Islamic State as a threat in a way that it didn’t before the attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport last month.
“Erdogan feels the IS threat in a way he didn’t a year ago,” the official said. “I don’t know how he can close the door on cooperation. I don’t know how he can walk a way from that.”
—Emre Peker and Dion Nissenbaum contributed to this article.