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Failed coup in Turkey threatens military ties with key U.S. ally

July 19, 2016 (Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Cory Bush/Air Force)

The Turkish defense minister will not fly to Washington on Wednesday to attend a key meeting of the global coalition fighting the Islamic State, the latest sign that the Pentagon’s military relationship with the key Middle Eastern ally may be suffering in the wake of the failed coup attempt there last week. 

Pentagon officials say that Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık will not attend the meeting hosted by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. 

Carter will convene dozens of top military officials from allied nations at the Air Force base to discuss the 2-year-old mission to oust the Islamic State form Iraq and Syria. 

Turkey is a key ally because the U.S. and its partners rely on the use of Incirlik Air Base near the Syrian border to mount daily airstrikes on Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS or ISIL. And the U.S is pressuring the Turks to seal their border with Syria to cut off ISIS’s primary supply route to the outside world. 

Yet communication between the U.S. and Turkish military has been limited since the Turkish military attempted to take over the democratically elected government on Friday. Pentagon officials say Carter and his Turkish counterpart have not spoken. Instead, lower-level communications between the two militaries have focused on logistical concerns.

“We've been in conversations specifically about the takeoffs and landings, the recovery of our aircraft at Incirlik,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Monday. “So it's been operational. It's about safety and security.”

The coup attempt prompted Turkey to temporarily halt the flight of all military aircraft from Incirlik, but U.S. combat and intelligence aircraft resumed Sunday. 

Electrical power for Incirclik was cut off during the coup attempt Friday. A backup generator is providing power for the U.S. facilities there that support flight operations and the roughly 2,700 U.S. troops stationed there, U.S. defense officials said. 

The Turkish military's leadership is in turmoil. The Turkish commander at Incirlik was reportedly arrested in the wake of the failed coup, along with hundreds of other general and flag officers across the country. Turkish civilian authorities have reportedly entered the base at Incirlik to conduct searches. 

It's widely believed that the U.S. maintains an arsenal of small "tactical" nuclear weapons at the base. 

Cook declined to comment on the nuclear weapons or the impact that the arrests might have on the relationship between the U.S. and Turkish militaries. 

Carter is not concerned about a lack of communication with the defense minister of a key ally, Cook said. 

“I think it's fair to say that Turkish officials have been fairly busy with accounting for what's happened the last few days,” Cook said.

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