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The Fight Against ISIS Will Suffer Because of Turkey’s Coup

Jonathan Schanzer
19th July 2016 - The New York Times

The failed coup in Turkey will set back global efforts to combat the Islamic State.

For one, trust between Ankara and Washington is at an all-time low. A Turkish minister charged on TV that the United States was behind the attempted coup. The State Department fired back, stating that, “claims about any role by the United States in the failed coup attempt are utterly false and harmful to our bilateral relations.”

The U.S. use of the Incirlik airbase – a crucial U.S. and NATO military asset in Turkey – is also now in doubt. On Saturday, the Turkish government cut power and closed the airspace, forcing operations against the Islamic State to grind to a halt. Operations have resumed, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may still try to use the base as a bargaining chip to demand America’s extradition of Fetullah Gulen, his archrival based in rural Pennsylvania since 1999.

Accessing Incirlik wasn’t easy in the first place. The coalition has only been able to strike at the Islamic State from Turkey since last August. That was when Turkey, a NATO ally bordering Islamic State territory, finally began to take direct military action against the terror group, too. But even now, Turkey remains somewhat limited in its contribution to the campaign.

In truth, Turkey has never been fully committed to countering the Islamic State. The Erdogan government has been more eager to topple the Assad regime in Syria. This position is understandable, given the atrocities Assad has committed. But, what is inexcusable is Turkey’s decision to allow its southeastern frontier to be exploited by Islamist fighters seeking to join the fray. The Islamic State has undeniably benefited.

The Turkish government is also ambivalent about fighting the Islamic State because it effectively puts Turkey in the same camp as the Syrian separatist Kurdish factions it seeks to destroy. Specifically, the Turks have openly threatened military action against the YPG, an offshoot of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is one of the more effective forces in the war against the Islamic State.

Erdogan’s war against the Kurds has escalated (some believe he has done for political gain), at the expense of the war against the Islamic State. For the past few weeks, it seemed that Turkey was ready to buckle down, particularly after theterror attack on Istanbul’s airport. But that was fleeting. Friday night’s coup attempt is now sure to pull Ankara into another protracted battle: the purge of domestic enemies.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer.

Tags

isis, islamism, nato, turkey