ANKARA, ISTANBUL (Reuters)—President Tayyip Erdogan angrily rejected Western criticism of purges under way in Turkey’s military and other state institutions after a failed coup, suggesting some in the United States were on the side of the plotters.
The purges target supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding the July 15-16 coup. Turkey’s Western allies condemned the coup, 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.
The director of U.S. national intelligence, James Clapper, said on Thursday the purges were harming the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq by sweeping away Turkish officers who had worked closely with the United States.
The head of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, said he believed some of the military figures whom the United States had worked with were in jail.
Speaking at a special forces headquarters in Ankara badly damaged by violence on the night of the coup, Erdogan on Friday condemned Votel’s remarks.
“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 denies any involvement in the coup attempt.
“They (the critics) say … ‘we worry for (Turkey’s) future.’ But what are these gentlemen worried about? Whether the numbers of detained and arrested will increase? If they are guilty, they will increase,” said Erdogan, who narrowly escaped capture and possible death on the night of the coup.
Ankara wants Washington to extradite Gulen, once a close ally of Erdogan and now an arch foe, to Turkey.
Asked about the U.S. comments on losing Turkish interlocutors, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim echoed Erdogan’s feisty tone: “This is a confession. If the Gulenist generals are their friends, they are in the same class.”
Yildirim also said Turkey would shut down an air base near Ankara which served as a hub for the coup plotters as well as all military barracks used by them.
Turkey announced late on Thursday a major shake-up of its armed forces, NATO’s second largest, with the promotion of 99 colonels to the rank of general or admiral and the dishonorable discharge of nearly 1,700 military personnel over their alleged roles in the coup.
About 40 percent of all generals and admirals have been dismissed since the coup.
Defense Minister Fikri Isik told broadcaster NTV on Friday the shake-up in the military was not yet over, adding that military academies would now be a target of “cleansing.”
The purges have also hit government ministries, schools and universities, the police, civil service, media and business.
The number of public sector workers removed from their posts since the coup attempt now stands at more than 66,000, including some 43,000 people in education, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.
Interior Minister Efkan Ala said more than 18,000 people had been detained over the failed coup, and that 50,000 passports had been canceled. The labor ministry said it was investigating 1,300 staff over their possible involvement.
Erdogan says Gulen harnessed his extensive network of schools, charities and businesses, built up in Turkey and abroad over decades, to create a secretive “parallel state” that aimed to take over the country.
Erdogan’s critics say he is using the purges to crack down indiscriminately on dissent and to tighten his grip on power.