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Dunford Visit to Turkey is First by Senior U.S. Official Since Coup Attempt

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 1, 2016 — Though they are both national leaders, the trip here to visit Gen. Hulusi Akar of the Turkish army by Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford was one friend making sure another was well after a traumatic experience.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Turkey’s chief of defense today just a little over two weeks after Akar was kidnapped, drugged and threatened as part of the unsuccessful coup here.

The plotters were trying to topple the government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It failed, but more than 250 people were killed and more than 2,100 were wounded, according to Turkish figures.

Dunford is the first international leader to visit Turkey since the coup was defeated. “I’ve known General Akar – my counterpart – for a long time,” Dunford said. The general said he wanted to be sure his friend was all right.

Details of Coup Attempt

Dunford said Akar told him that one of his aides had turned on him and sided with the coup plotters. They kidnapped him and held a pistol to his head to get him to sign a proclamation in support of the coup. He refused. Akar was held until the coup fell apart after Erdogan rallied the Turkish people to reject the attack on democracy in the country and take on the coup plotters.

Dunford said Akar was pleased with the visit and confirmed that Turkey desires to keep a broad partnership with the United States across a broad range of issues, but especially in NATO and in countering the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The chairman said Akar assured him that Turkey will continue to provide access to Turkish bases in Incirlik and Diyabakir. These bases are key to the fight against ISIL.

Akar also took Dunford to the Turkish parliament. He showed the chairman the results of the four bombs coup F-16s dropped on the building and the effects that attack helicopters had on it. Following the tour, Dunford met some Turkish lawmakers.

Meeting With Prime Minister

Then Dunford, Akar and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass met with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. In all of the meetings, he heard that “to deal with the challenges of the region is going to require the United States and Turkey to cooperate,” Dunford said. “The consistent theme throughout the day was a reaffirmation of the importance of the U.S.-Turkey relationship -- the need for us to cooperate,” he added. “We will have all the access we need to Incirlik, Diyabakir and other facilities as necessary to prosecute the counter-ISIL fight.”

Dunford said the tone in all the meetings was positive and “not accusatory at all.”

In all of the meetings, Dunford said, he also heard about the need for the United States to send Fethullah Gulen – a former imam who is self-exiled in Pennsylvania – back to Turkey. Turkish leaders believe he is behind the coup. “I told them that I will be sure the Turkish perspective is conveyed to my leadership,” Dunford said.

Encouraged by Relationship

The chairman said he is encouraged not only about the military-to-military relationship between the two countries, but also about the broader relationship. “We have some differences on how to deal with [ISIL],” Dunford said. “But I think an express willingness to work through these issues and share perspectives will mean stability in the region.”

Akar already was scheduled for a counterpart visit to Washington this month. Dunford said he told the Turkish general that he hopes he will still come, noting that they have a lot to talk about: ISIL, bases, tactics and so on. But they did not talk about them today, he said.

“I wanted to practice a little bit of patience, recognizing that my friend had been through a traumatic experience,” the chairman said. “Me going in there with a laundry list of ‘asks’ is not appropriate for a friendship – that’s a transactional relationship – and that is not what this is. I was just glad to hear my friend’s voice again.”

Dunford’s visit to Turkey follows a visit to Iraq during his current overseas trip.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

Distribution channels: Military