Turkey’s government is exploring ways to keep its soldiers stationed at Kabul international airport even after the Taliban have seized control of Afghanistan, two Turkish officials told Middle East Eye.
With the United States withdrawing from Afghanistan after 20 years, Ankara and Washington had been negotiating a plan to see the Turkish military continue to secure Kabul’s airport after US troops leave.
However, just as the two were poised to reach a deal, the Taliban captured the city on Sunday rendering any such agreement irrelevant.
The US is evacuating its entire military presence and the Afghan government no longer exists.
When asked what Ankara will do now, Turkish officials said Turkey has had diplomatic relations with Afghanistan for the past 100 years and there are deep cultural ties between the two nations.
‘However, we will try to negotiate with the Taliban to see if they would like us to maintain our presence, which would be natural for us, considering the deep ties’
– Turkish official
“Currently, there is no deal for us to stay in Kabul,” one official told MEE.
“However, we will try to negotiate with the Taliban to see if they would like us to maintain our presence, which would be natural for us, considering the deep ties.”
Multiple Taliban officials have said that they won’t permit the presence of Turkish forces in the country as part of a foreign mission, even though they consider Turkey a brotherly nation.
Yet with the US gone, Ankara believes the calculus may have changed for the Taliban as well.
“Turkey still could secure the airport and it could help the Taliban to obtain a diplomatic presence in Kabul. It might help them to get the diplomatic recognition that they wanted,” the Turkish official added. “If they don’t want us, we can leave.”
The officials also stressed that, despite being part of the Nato mission in Afghanistan, Ankara never carried out a combat mission against the Taliban. They say Turkey has continually supported the now-collapsed Afghan government in every way it could.
“We aren’t invaders and the Taliban knows this. We only have 600 troops there anyway,” the official said.
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told Sabah newspaper on Monday that if Turkey isn’t wanted, “we can evacuate our soldiers in 24 hours”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week said he wanted to meet Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the co-founders of the Taliban, to talk about the issue. A Taliban spokesperson said a meeting between the two was possible in the “right circumstances”.
Erdogan said on Sunday that Ankara would do everything it could alongside Pakistan to stabilize the country, but he didn’t comment on the Turkish troops.
Meanwhile on Monday, Erdogan’s nationalist ally Devlet Bahceli said in a series of tweets it was unthinkable for Turkey to withdraw its forces from Turkey, adding that talking to the Taliban could stop the flow of Afghan refugees into the country.
The rest of the article is here. / Ragip Soylu