LANDCOM commander: I understand Turkey’s reluctance

LANDCOM commander: I understand Turkey’s reluctance

As you read this article, one of NATO’s top soldiers, the LANDCOM commander in Izmir, Lt.-Gen. Frederick Ben Hodges, will be packing his bags and moving to the command post of Wiesbaden where the U.S. Land Forces in Europe are located. Before he left, we spoke frankly about what changed since he took over the position of establishing the Land Command of NATO in İzmir. He was visibly excited to be promoted but also sad to be leaving Turkey.

“When we first came here in 2012, there were only nine of us,” he said. “Now this NATO mission has 330 personnel, has a manning rate of 95 percent, which I am very proud of. The U.S. has filled every position allocated. This shows the importance that the Alliance has given to this mission and to Turkey.”

Almost a year ago, when I first interviewed Hodges, the headline story was about events unfolding in Ukraine. But nobody in Turkey had to care about NATO’s role or questioned Turkey’s participation in the Alliance. In fact, there were even people who were questioning the relevance of NATO. Now one year after, while all hell is breaking loose on our southern border, NATO looks like the only anchor keeping Turkey together with the West.

Hodges, like Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, believes there should be a longer-term approach to wipe out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

“The use of force is going to be a part of the solution. Some people are going to be killed. But there is a broader approach. Where are they getting their money from? I know some of it is coming through illegal sales of oil, but I think they are getting some funding from the international banking system. If we are serious about this, we need to squeeze that as well,” said Hodges.

“Finally there should be a longer-term solution. Why are young men and now women, from the U.S., Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands, leaving their homes and families to come and join ISIL? What is wrong with where they are coming from? Why are they recruited so easily and radicalized? We need to look into that,” he said.

What struck me in Hodges’ words was his understanding of Turkish officials’ reluctance to help the fighters in Kobane. Hodges expressed that after spending two years in Turkey (and perhaps specifically in İzmir), he understood the emotional and political complexity of the issue.

“ISIL is a terrible threat, but I can understand why Turkey could be reluctant about weapons being given to certain Kurdish groups. I would not offer any agreement or disagreement because it is a domestic and a very sensitive matter. But I can understand it,” he said.

As Hodges prepared to hand his post to the incoming commander, he reiterated the fact that Turkey’s geographical location makes it an invaluable ally in NATO and a strategic partner for the U.S. He did say there might be disagreements over the İncirlik Base. “I am sure the right people will find the right solutions. We always do,” he said.