Turkey’s top soldier to skip US-hosted ISIL meeting
WASHINGTON - ANKARA
AA PhotoA crucial military meeting in the United States bringing together the highest-ranking commanders in a global anti-ISIL coalition will meet next week without Turkey’s top soldier after the chief of General Staff elected to stay home due to developments on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkish diplomatic and military sources confirmed that Lt. Gen. Erdal Öztürk, the head of the Chief of Staff’s Operation Division, will represent Turkey at the meeting that will take place on Oct. 13 and 14 in the U.S. instead of his superior, Necdet Özel.
The General Staff said in a statement Oct. 11 on its official website that some news reports have attahced “false meanings” to Özel's decision not to attend the meeting.
Öztürk has attended similar meetings in the region, it also noted.
The gathering will be the first of its kind for the coalition established to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Top military officials from nearly 20 countries are expected to be present at the meeting that will be held at a military base in the U.S.
Sources said the invitation was directly made by U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey to Özel over the phone early this week, but Turkey’s top soldier was forced to decline the invitation due to his busy schedule and growing security threats immediately across from the Turkish border.
Özel’s absence should not be interpreted as unwillingness on Turkey’s part to participate in the coalition, military sources said, adding that Turkey had taken part in previous political meetings of the coalition in Jeddah and Paris.
Although Turkish officials downplayed Özel’s decision not to attend the meeting, the fact that Ankara and Washington are rarely on the same page when it comes to dealing with the ISIL threat could make his absence highly significant. Following intense dialogue between top Turkish political figures and the American leadership in the last two weeks, there were widespread expectations that Turkey would actively participate in the anti-ISIL coalition as it is not only the second largest army in NATO but also possesses fully-equipped NATO standardized military bases, like the İncirlik Base in Adana.
However, Turkey has listed three main conditions for its involvement in the process: establishing safe havens in Syria, setting up no-fly zones over Syrian airspace and launching a new effort to train and provide weapons to putative moderate Syrian rebels in an effort to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.