Turkish military officer sent to US for F-35 project charged as Gülen follower

A number of Turkish Air Force pilots and noncommissioned officers who were assigned to positions overseas following a controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, including one working with the F-35 project in the United States, have been charged with alleged membership in the Gülen movement, the pro-government Sabah daily reported on Thursday.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dismissed 24,977 military members including 150 generals, 4,630 officers, 2,167 noncommissioned officers, 1,210 specialized sergeants, 411 civil servants and workers, and 16,409 cadets since a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 over alleged links to the movement.

The government has up until now employed 15,850 military personnel including 1,763 officers, 4,135 noncommissioned officers, 3,698 specialized sergeants, 6,162 contracted privates and 92 civil servants.

The Sabah daily, a mouthpiece for the autocratic regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, claimed that more than 100 pilots and noncommissioned officers of the Turkish Air Force “used” their assignments abroad, as well as their days off, to flee Turkey amid ongoing investigations into alleged members of the Gülen movement.

According to the report, the pilots and officers who “fled” Turkey because of the indiscriminate persecution of the Erdoğan regime, included those who were sent to Turkey’s missions in Germany, France, Greece and the US. These military personnel were given posts abroad after the coup attempt, and the list reportedly includes majors, captains and a noncommissioned officer assigned to the US as part of the F-35 project.

The Turkish government has detained 3,293 military officers and arrested 717 of them between January 1 – May15, 2018 as part of its massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement.

The report comes as a US Senate committee voted in favor of legislation that would prohibit the delivery of Joint Strike Fighters, F-35s, to Turkey in response to the continued detention of protestant pastor Andrew Brunson on terror charges and the procurement of an S-400 air defense system from Russia.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had voiced confidence on Wednesday that the US administration would not block the delivery of the F-35s to Turkey despite measures being discussed in the US Congress.

Official statements claim that 8,651 military members including cadets and privates took part in the coup bid in July 2016.

“If it was a coup perpetrated by the Gülen movement and 25,000 military personnel and 22,987 police officers were dismissed for their connections to the movement, why did only 8,651 military members including cadets and privates participate in the coup?” is a question being asked by critics.

The government has been at the center of criticism for turning the Turkish forces into a political Islamist military in line with the wishes of President Erdoğan.

The Turkish government announced on Jan. 2, 2017 that it would enlist 42,938 new military personnel. A total of 3,755 officers, 5,375 noncommissioned officers, 13,213 specialized sergeants and 20,595 contracted privates are planned to fill the ranks. In February 2017 then-Defense Minister Fikri Işık said 30,000 new recruits would be enlisted in the Turkish military.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Ankara issued detention warrants on Thursday for 14 Health Ministry personnel over their alleged links to Gülen movement.

According to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, four of the 14 suspects are current ministry personnel, while eight are former staff members and two are retired. Seven out of the 14 suspects have already been detained by police, while the search for the remainder continues.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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