Turkish Defense Minister Skips Major Anti-ISIS Conference

REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent

Turkish Minister of Defense Fikri Isik spoke with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter over the phone yesterday to assure him Turkey remained committed to defeating ISIS, but informed him he would be missing a major defense ministerial summit of the U.S. Anti-ISIS coalition.

Isik’s absence is the most high profile absence from the major summit meant to craft the next phase of the U.S. Anti-ISIS coalition’s strategy inside Syria. The summit includes 34 nations plus all members of the NATO alliance. Isik proffered that he had to remain in Turkey to deal with the aftermath of an attempted coup by elements of the Turkish military.

Isik is playing a central role in helping Turkish President Recep Erdogan response to the attempted coup. The recent coup attempt has handed Erdogan carte blanche to purge the highest echelons of Turkish society of nearly 50,000. Erdogan is using the recent coup attempt against him to consolidate all power in Turkish society around his leadership, even going so far as to call the attempt a “gift from god.”

Turkey is one of the most important members of the U.S. Anti-ISIS coalition. Turkey shares a border with Syria and is a founding member of the NATO alliance. The U.S. relies heavily on Incrilik airbase in Turkey to launch thousands of strikes against ISIS inside Iraq and Syria. Incrilik air base also houses almost 50 U.S. nuclear weapons.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister also stayed behind in Ankara to manage the Turkish governments response to the attempted coup. The Turkish governments massive crackdown has been decried by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as undemocratic. “NATO also has a requirement with respect to democracy, and NATO will indeed measure very carefully what is happening,” Kerry said at a NATO meeting on Monday.

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