The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has secretly investigated US troops deployed in Turkey and monitored their movements as part of a probe into a coup attempt in July 2016, secret documents have revealed.
According to a trove of intelligence documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, military plans, troop movements and even anti-Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) operations involving US military personnel in Turkey were reviewed on the suspicion that they might have been involved in the failed coup. The secret probe helps feed into the Erdoğan government’s false narrative which claims that the US was the mastermind behind the abortive putsch although there has been no evidence presented to support that claim.
The Turkish military intelligence reports, incorporated into a prosecutor’s file as part of the coup investigation, discloses an array of US military operations in Turkey and its neighborhood. None of the activity appears to be unusual and in fact seems to be routine operations ranging from construction and spare parts supply to maintaining drone surveillance flights.
In one document classified as secret sent to the Office of the Chief of General Staff and other relevant departments in the Turkish military by the 5th Armored Brigade stationed in southeastern Gaziantep province, the operations of the US military’s 39th Mission Support Group (MSP), which operates out of Incirlik Air Base in Adana, were covered. The same report also included the activities of the US Air Force’s 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron (EACS) Det-7 teams. The document details construction work and personnel needs as well as logistical operations involving both MSP and EACS-7. XUH-60S helicopter flights that carried troops and equipment between Incirlik and Gaziantep were also logged.
US military operations involving the Shadow Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System, which is based at the General Hüseyin Ataman Kışlası Garrison in Gaziantep province were also reported to the the Office of the Chief of General Staff. On July 10, 2016 the US military dispatched 19 troops from Incirlik Air Base, accompanied by 10 trucks and five vehicles carrying UAVs, Humvees and spare parts, to the Ataman garrison in Gaziantep. On July 21, 2016 two US troops and one translator left the garrison according to the report. The US drone operations on July 14 were said to be continuing uninterrupted.
Another group that Turkish prosecutors have looked into is US personnel overseeing the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in Turkey. Routine personnel exchanges between Incirlik Air Base and the Ataman garrison, purchase orders for oil to power generators for radar units and maintenance operations which were all reported by the Turkish military in classified documents were investigated by the prosecutors. The number of US military personnel assigned to various missions was also identified in the document.
The activities that were scrutinized do not suggest anything unusual, and they all appear to be in line with agreements between Turkey and the United States. Yet, the Turkish prosecutors concluded that documents which featured classified US troop movement and logistical operations were relevant to the coup investigation and ordered all intelligence and military documents to be incorporated in the case file, making them part of the public record. It helps the Erdoğan government to spin conspiracy theories around the coup attempt, with partisan prosecutors doing the bidding of the government instead of searching for the facts.
With the purge of over 4,000 judges and prosecutors and their replacement by partisan, Islamist and neo-nationalist candidates, it is hardly surprising to see that government prosecutors would engage in a fishing expedition that only serves to stoke anti-US and anti-Western sentiment in Turkey. No wonder the Erdoğan government and the media it controls have been relentlessly floating unsubstantiated stories about alleged US complicity in the limited military mobilization that looks more like a false flag operation orchestrated by Erdoğan himself.
The secret investigation also explains why Erdoğan’s judiciary has taken seriously a criminal complaint against several high-ranking US generals filed in 2018 by members of an organized crime syndicate called Tay-Der, a thuggish group that serves at the pleasure of Erdoğan. Operatives of Tay-Der, backed by Erdoğan’s close confidante Metin Külünk, who once ran the armed wing of the radical Islamist Akıncılar group, filed a motion with the prosecutor’s office asking authorities to arrest Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command; retired US Army Gen. John F. Campbell; and Air Force Brig. Gen. Rick Boutwell, director of regional affairs, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force. US officers Col. John C. Walker, Col. Michael H. Manion, Col. David Eaglen, Col. David Trucksa, Lt. Col. Timothy J. Cook, Lt. Col. Mack R. Coker, Sgt. Thomas S. Cooper, Sgt. Vegas M. Clark and others deployed to İncirlik Airbase were also named in the brief.
The complaint also asks authorities to issue a search and seizure warrant for İncirlik to gather evidence and to halt all outbound US military flights from the base. Not surprisingly, the 60-page criminal complaint appears to have been written by Erdoğan’s neo-nationalist ally Doğu Perinçek, whose Aydınlık newspaper was extensively quoted in the complaint, having leveled false coup accusations against US troops deployed at the base. In other words, what was published as fake news in the propaganda media was later considered to be evidence in a court of law, which is how criminal cases in many instances have been pursued in Turkey under the Erdoğan regime.
Escalating the issue further on top of media and legal attacks against İncirlik, Erdoğan and his political associates have also started publicly entertaining the idea of closing the base to US access. In July 2018, speaking to reporters on board the presidential plane, Erdoğan for the first time raised the issue of closing İncirlik Air Base to the Americans, followed by similar comments from his ally in the security branch, Perinçek. Erdoğan’s associates had been bringing the issue to debate long before he made this comment on İncirlik. For example, in February 2016 Erdoğan’s then-aide and now chief ombudsman Şeref Malkoç claimed İncirlik might be closed to the Americans. Incidentally, Malkoç’s son-in-law is Abdurrahman Gül, the current justice minister who was designated under sanctions by the US Treasury for hıs role in the wrongful detention and prosecution of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
In August 2017 professor of constitutional law Burhan Kuzu, a senior member of Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his advisor, asked prosecutors to investigate NATO and the İncirlik base over the failed coup. In January 2018 Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on government TV network TRT that he had delivered to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the Turkish people’s demands regarding İncirlik during a meeting in Vancouver. In February 2018 Çavuşoğlu repeated the same threats and said the Turkish people demanded the termination of US access to both the İncirlik base and the Kürecik radar station. In May 2018 he took it further and threatened the US with similar action if normalization efforts between the US and Turkey failed.