How can the U.S. count on a key NATO ally at war with itself?

Michael Weiss writes: Four days after Turkey’s failed coup, which left 300 dead and more than 1,400 injured, new details have emerged to suggest the putsch came closer to a successful overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan than many observers thought—and the operation could have a major impact on U.S.-Turkish military cooperation in the war against the so-called Islamic State just across Turkey’s borders in Syria and Iraq.

Aaron Stein at the Atlantic Council nails the core problem when he asks, “How can we credibly go to war with a NATO ally in coalition operations when that ally’s army is at war with itself?”

Turkey, remember, has the second biggest army in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, after the United States. In the Cold War years, its borders with the Soviet Union were vital to Western strategy. In the age of jihad, the fact that its territory abuts not only ISIS-land, but Iran, gives it enormous geopolitical importance.

The putschists, it now appears, relied heavily on a key NATO installation to carry out the aerial component of their daring plot, which was spearheaded by officers in the Turkish air force. And the enormous post-coup dragnet of suspected traitors already has snared high-ranking military officials who had been responsible for securing Turkey’s frontiers and carrying out coalition policy in Syria.

Had the coup not been detected in advance by Turkish intelligence, forcing the conspiracy to be moved up in the calendar, it might well have succeeded.

According to Asli Aydintasbas, a Turkey specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the head of the National Intelligence Organization, or MIT, Hakan Fidan uncovered “‘unusual activity’ within army ranks on Friday afternoon and [visited] the Chief of Staff around 5 p.m. This led to precautions and an inquiry at the senior level, forcing the coup plot to be executed at an earlier time.” CNNTurk corroborated this story.

A Sikorsky attack helicopter and putschist commandos apparently were mobilized to attack MIT headquarters in Ankara and try to kidnap Fidan.

“I think these guys missed decapitating the government by about 30 minutes and we’d have woken up on Saturday with a dead president, a surrounded parliament, and a chief of general staff in custody,” said Stein, my colleague at the Atlantic Council. [Continue reading…]

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