Former top military officials discuss ‘very fraught’ U.S. relationship with Turkey

Former CIA Director and Gen. David Petraeus and former NATO commander Phillip Breedlove discuss challenges in the U.S.’s relationship with Turkey at a hearing on Wednesday

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 09: Retired Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove, former NATO supreme allied commander Europe and former commander of the U.S. European Command, speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S. - Russian relationship on February 9, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Former top U.S. military officials discussed difficulties in the U.S.-Turkish relationship during a House Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, with the ex-officials describing the alliance as increasingly difficult and “hugely frustrating.”

“Our relationship with the leadership of Turkey is becoming ever more challenged,” retired Gen. Phillip Breedlove, who served as the NATO supreme allied commander from 2013 to 2016, said yesterday.

“I think our cooperation on those issues is going down, somewhat,” he continued, referring to Turkey’s role as a transit country for both refugees and bad actors into Europe, “and I think that’s something at the level of the agencies and at the level of your committee and others, we could use some oversight and help.”

Former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus, who was testifying alongside Breedlove, called the U.S.-Turkish relationship “hugely frustrating” and “very fraught.” He pointed to conflicts between the U.S. and Turkey over Washington’s backing of Kurdish militants in Syria that Ankara says are terrorists, the Russian-Turkish relationship and Turkey’s obstruction of NATO expansion.

“I think we’re going to have to have a degree of strategic patience with the situation,” Petraeus said. “I think we have to be careful not to let short-term frustration result in long-term dislocation of the relationship, [which] would be very, very damaging.”

Petraeus also discussed efforts undertaken during his time in the military to root out domestic extremist elements in the ranks.

“We did, of all things — there were tattoos that sort of indicated [extremist affiliations], and there was a tattoo check,” Petraeus recounted. “And lo and behold we identified there was a serious problem. And Fort Bragg has experienced this a couple of different times.”

Petraeus said that it’s important to assess potential threats. “What are the indicators of this?” he said. “How can you then identify those? How do you screen for them? And you’ve got to be upfront about it and open and transparent about it as well because it’s a very serious threat.”

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