Turkish general Mehmet Yalınalp, who was sacked following a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 while he was serving as the head of NATO’s air command strategy in Germany, said the government’s purge of top commanders and pilots in the Turkish army is causing deep long-term damage in the second-biggest army in NATO.
Speaking during an interview with Reuters published on Wednesday, Yalınalp said he was fired from his position a week after the failed coup and is among hundreds of Turkish NATO officers to have been dismissed, some of whom have requested asylum in Europe.
Underlining that the impact of the purges will be disastrous, Yalınalp said the Turkish military is weakening because it is losing personnel as many of them are taken into indefinite custody. “It may take years, even decades to recover,” he said.
According to Yalınalp, the government purge has sapped morale, undermined competence and left the military without enough pilots to fly its F16 jets.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said recently that some Turkish military officers posted to NATO in Europe have requested asylum since the abortive coup in Turkey in July.
Stoltenberg stressed that Turkey remains a crucial NATO ally and said he condemned the July 15 putsch, but also said Ankara must respect the rule of law even it seeks to remove suspected coup plotters from its armed forces.
Denying the accusations of involvement in the coup attempt, Yalınalp said he was never told specifically what the accusations against him are and disputes there is any evidence against him.
Yalınalp was reassigned to Ankara by the Defense Ministry along with 43 other generals as part of a decree published in Turkey’s Official Gazette on Aug. 1. However, other officials who returned had been arrested, he said.
“Some of my old classmates are in custody now, generals who were on vacation at the time … highly educated people,” he added.
The 48-year-old Turkish general is now applying to study for a doctorate in Germany.
According to Yalınalp, the nearly 5,000 officers purged were a fraction of Turkey’s almost 400,000-strong army, and they were the best educated, on whose experience the military depended. Around 150 out of roughly 360 generals have been detained since the abortive coup.
Underlining that Turkey’s 240 F16 jets now have only 200 pilots, Yalınalp said: “It takes 25, 30 years to mature as a senior officer, to plan, to think and to act as a general. We can barely find enough talented people to fly our jets.”
Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Despite Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whose views inspired the movement, and the movement having denied the accusation, Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government launched a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
More than 115,000 people have been purged from state bodies, in excess of 80,000 detained and over 36,000 have been arrested since the coup attempt. Arrestees include journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics, governors and even a comedian. Critics argue that lists of Gülen sympathizers were drawn up prior to the coup attempt.