Turkey considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Report

As the US begins pulling out what remains of its mighty army in Afghanistan, Turkey is also said to be planning an exit amid a surge in violence perpetrated by extremist forces. (AFP file photo)
As the US begins pulling out what remains of its mighty army in Afghanistan, Turkey is also said to be planning an exit amid a surge in violence perpetrated by extremist forces. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 11 May 2021

Turkey considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Report

Turkey considering troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Report
  • Ankara has provided security to Kabul airport for years as the potential absence of Turkish troops will affect other Western countries’ missions
  • Security at Hamid Karzai International Airport can ensure the opening of Afghanistan to the outside world and prevent the Taliban from gaining ground, expert says

ANKARA: As NATO allies are asking US President Joe Biden and his administration to delay its troop withdrawal date from Afghanistan for an extra couple of months, Turkey informed its NATO allies and the US that it is also considering a withdraw from the country, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Turkish authorities have not yet released any official statement about the WSJ report. 

Turkey has provided security to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul for years. The potential withdrawal of Turkish troops will complicate things as other Western nations are trying to keep their diplomatic missions open in the country following the end of NATO’s longest-ever mission. 

In the absence of an international security provider, foreign contractors will be on their own when it comes to airport security operations if NATO does not provide support. 

On Sunday, at least 30 people — mostly schoolgirls — were killed and 52 people were injured in three blasts that targeted a school in Kabul when students were leaving for the day.

Magdalena Kirchner, director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation office in Kabul, said the Turkish decision is driven by the US withdrawal.

“On one hand, Turkey has an interest in Afghanistan’s stability and has deployed troops there since 2001,” she told Arab News. “But on the other hand, its direct military engagement is tied to NATO’s mission there and public approval has been low traditionally.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Afghanistan. Between 2001 and 2014, Turkey was an active partner in NATO’s Afghanistan mission, which was called the International Security Assistance Force and then the Resolute Support Mission from 2015 until the present. 

“As there is no appetite among other allies for a Resolute Support Mission 2.0 or a similar NATO framework, the withdrawal is inevitable in my opinion,” Kirchner said.

“This does not mean that Turkey’s engagement with Afghanistan would end completely.” 

Experts underline that the Kabul airport is of key importance for ensuring the opening of Afghanistan to the outside world. Humanitarian aid, as well as military flights, have already been channeled through the airport.

But the airport’s security is of utmost importance. Not only for preventing the Taliban from gaining ground in the country but also to support the international organizations and NGOs that are sending humanitarian aid.

According to Kirchner, the importance of commercial air travel between Afghanistan and other countries through ongoing Turkish Airlines flights is extremely high in the war-hit country. 

“A disruption of air travel could put the implementation of pledges for ongoing civilian support severely at risk in a critical phase for the country,” she said. “Efforts to facilitate a smooth handover to Afghan or other international forces are underway and will hopefully be successful.”

The US-backed Afghan peace conference, scheduled to be held from April 24 until May 4 in Istanbul, was postponed until after Ramadan. The Taliban had earlier refused to attend any Afghan peace summit until all foreign forces were pulled out of Afghanistan.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan called on the Taliban to keep its promise and reach a negotiated settlement for lasting peace in Afghanistan. The countries are also urging the Taliban to help launch a political transition with the Afghan government after the US completes its troop withdrawal from the country on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that spurred the US invasion.

Kirchner thinks Turkey had hoped for more political support from Washington and other allies regarding the Istanbul conference and a possible extension of the NATO mission. 

“Enhanced cooperation pertaining to Afghanistan could certainly have helped alleviate other, more conflictual issues on the transatlantic relationship, but Turkey’s leverage is limited there,” she said.

“Although Turkey has significant inroads in Afghan politics and good relations with a high number of stakeholders, the US remains the most important power broker for the foreseeable future.”

Last December, the Turkish parliament approved a motion to extend the deployment of Turkish troops in Afghanistan for 18 months as part of NATO’s support mission in the war-torn country.