“There is no need for Turkish forces in Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in his press conference on Tuesday. “We are able to secure the airport ourselves.”
Turkey has been in the picture for some time as the successor to the United States as military overseer of the Afghan capital’s airport. That plan was discussed at the NATO summit in Brussels in mid-June by President Joe Biden and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the initiative of the latter.
The oversight project was widely reported in the Turkish press, and Erdogan seems to have sensed it. Late on August 11, as the Taliban offensive gained momentum, the US State Department said it was “grateful” for NATO partner Turkey’s offer. It was not clear if he had actually been finally accepted.
Everything changed with the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. The United States is no longer in a position to decide who will take over the security tasks alone around the airport. Everything depends on what the Taliban want.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday, after a virtual G7 summit, that she was talking with Turkey, the United States and other allies about keeping the airport operational. This is especially necessary for the continuation of evictions. According to her, there are also talks with the Taliban.
The Taliban’s negative response on Tuesday was a setback for President Erdogan. For him, such an Afghan mission will be another opportunity to prove that Turkey plays a key and indispensable role on the world stage.
Recently, Turkey has already left strong traces of smell in different conflict zones: Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria and Iraq. Turkey has also played a large role with regard to gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, as with the refugee deal with the European Union. Turkey’s offer to Biden over the Kabul airport also provided an opportunity for Erdogan to improve strained relations with the United States.
As a NATO member, Turkey has participated in many ISAF missions in Afghanistan since 2002, without combat missions. The Turks provided logistics and training of police and military personnel. Turkey has also been involved in guarding Kabul airport for the past six years. There are still about 600 Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan.
With the Americans’ departure on the horizon, the Turkish government has been conciliatory toward the Taliban in recent months. In July, Erdogan said Turkey “has nothing against their faith”. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey wants to contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan “within the framework of democracy and human rights.”
The Taliban, for their part, said they would like to cooperate with Turkey. Last week, spokesman Suhail Sahin said Turkey was an “important player”. According to him, the Turks can play a major role in the economy, health care, education, construction and especially the extraction of natural resources.
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