ANKARA: Commenting on the recent US refusal to heed Ankara’s request for F-16 training pilots to help replace airmen dismissed after last year’s military coup attempt and Washington’s move to prevent Pakistan from assisting Turkey, retired Turkish Lt-Gen Erdogan Karakus explained to Sputnik Turkiye what might be the reasons for this decision.
The US has rejected Ankara’s request to send F-16 training pilots to prepare new airmen in the wake of an array of dismissals following after last year’s military coup attempt in the country, saying that it has “no programme regarding training pilots abroad”. The US, however, offered to train Turkish pilots in the US.
“If you send your F-16 pilots to the US, we can train them here,” the US suggested. Turkey, for its part, insisted that its pilots operate from its own bases and in their own geographical conditions, former Lt-Gen Erdogan Karakus commented to Sputnik Turkiye on the US response.
“The US suggestion to send Turkish pilots for training in the US instead of sending its instructors to Turkey could be regarded as a certain message to Turkey, saying: “look, we are not hampering your intentions”. However, in fact, the US is undermining all the Turkish efforts. This is unacceptable behaviour on the part of the US,” he told Sputnik.
He further suggested that this move of the US, which is yet another step in the deteriorating relations between the two countries, could cause further aggravation of their ties. “As you know, our relations with the US are not at their best mostly due to certain discrepancies over the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD). Besides, there are certain difficulties caused by Turkey’s intentions to purchase S-400 missile defence systems from Russia. Another very important issue is the unwillingness of the US to extradite US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, (widely believed to have masterminded the coup in Turkey),” Erdogan Karakus explained.
Ankara has sent requests for F-16 instructors to some other states. Pakistan was the only country to accept Turkey’s request, but Washington has opposed this move, as any US military equipment purchase, sale, maintenance or training by third countries needs US approval.
Commenting on this decision, Erdogan Karakus suggested that the US might want to prevent Pakistani pilots from getting access to the digital terrain-mapping systems which are installed on the modernised F-16 jets possessed by Turkey. He stressed that the crisis with the pilots might be resolved if dismissed pilots return to military service.
“If you can’t bring instructors from the US or Pakistan, you have to train them yourself. This is the solution. We have trained many pilots for other countries: Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and Italy. We are able to train them for ourselves,” he said. Erdogan Karakus, however, noted that many countries, especially the US, are dissatisfied with the fact that Turkey has a great number of capable and experienced pilots.
“We have highly qualified instructors and pilots. This is, to a large extent, the reason behind all those games played against the Turkish Air Forces. Just imagine that during military drills in the US, one Turkish pilot is able to shoot down 26 American jets. As a result, the Turkish team is stronger by far,” he told Sputnik. He said Turkish pilots are so talented and professional that many countries feel worried and dissatisfied. However, he assured that Turkey is able to solve its problems by itself.
According to Hurriyet Daily News, the government purged a large number of pilots from the Turkish Air Forces following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. During the thwarted coup, 25 coup pilots flew F-16 jets and 11 of them bombed strategic sites. After the botched coup, the newspaper says, it was revealed that a significant number of followers of the US-based Islamic preacher Gülen were in the Air Forces Command and 1,752 personnel were dismissed with state of emergency decrees.
“According to official numbers, between 300 and 350 of those dismissed were warplane pilots and as a result the ratio between the number of seats and the number of pilots decreased to 1/0.8, when it should be 1/1.5,” the outlet said.