ANKARA: Turkey on Monday pledged to provide security cover at Kabul airport if a number of key conditions were met.
After weeks of uncertainty over whether Ankara would pull its troops from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the military would stay if its allies committed to certain political, financial, and logistical support.
Turkey’s decision about taking over security responsibility at the airport has been the subject of intense talks with Washington and was also discussed during the recent NATO defense ministers’ meeting.
Several countries had considered closing their embassies in Afghanistan if the city airport was not secured.
Following last year’s February agreement in Doha between the Taliban and the US government, the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan had been due to be completed by May 1. But the deadline was later extended, a decision that angered the group.
US soldiers are now expected to be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, New York terror attacks.
Akar said that Turkey, which had about 500 soldiers in the country as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM), was now awaiting a response from allies to its requests.
“We are aiming at restoring peace in Afghanistan. We have a historical brotherhood. We want to be able to stay in Afghanistan as long as the Afghan people want our assistance,” he added.
Hamid Karzai international in Kabul is the primary airport of the country and also serves as a large military base but Afghan authorities do not have the capacity to provide full security at the site where air traffic control has been operated by NATO military staff since 2002.
The airport’s security was important not only for military flights but also for supporting international organizations and NGOs distributing humanitarian aid.
Magdalena Kirchner, director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation office in Kabul, told Arab News that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces could theoretically increase the risk of retaliatory attacks against a Turkish residual force.
“But I think the higher risk would be the absence of critical enablers currently provided by US forces should there be a dramatic decline in the overall security situation or if the airport itself should come under attack,” she said.
Maintaining a presence at the airport was seen as crucial to ongoing international travel and support reaching the country and because the handover of airfields and airports to the Afghan authorities required more time, capacities, and resources than anticipated, she added.
The much-anticipated Istanbul conference on Afghan peace, due to have taken place in April, has been postponed after the Taliban made a late decision not to attend. The group expected the upcoming conference to be short with an agenda not touching upon decision-making on critical issues.
Regarding the prerequisites of continued Turkish presence in Afghanistan, Kirchner noted that negotiations may hinge around increasing the amount of a reported $130 million deal with NATO.
“Politically, maintaining at least a formal NATO umbrella would be an option preferred by Turkey over a unilateral military engagement and lastly, especially between the US and Turkey, logistical discussions over critical enablers and force protection capabilities might continue,” she said.
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. This year marks the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Afghanistan.