Will Turkey continue to keep troops in Afghanistan?
The Taliban’s entrance and taking control of Kabul happened smoother and quicker than many thought, including the intelligence of the United States. Yesterday marked the beginning of a new era in Afghanistan with the Taliban coming to power after 20 years. The transition will be peaceful, and the Taliban will not attack Kabul and allow the continued operation of the international airport, Afghan officials have said.
The crumbling of the Afghan security forces, which had around 300,000 troops equipped and trained by the U.S. and other NATO allies in the past two decades, against the Taliban is yet another lesson the West should learn. Differently from 1996-2001, the Taliban are now coming to power much stronger and organized and there seems to be no international force or local resistant group that can stop them.
The Taliban’s overrunning Kabul has come at a time when Turkey and the U.S. were continuing talks for the former’s keeping control of the international airport in the capital city. Turkey has had around 500 troops deployed at this airport since 2015 to keep the air travel from and to Kabul operational. Turkey had voiced its willingness to continue the mandate following the termination of NATO’s mission and withdrawal of the U.S. troops on the condition that the latter provides political, logistical and financial support.
Just days before the Taliban’s advance towards Kabul, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar informed that the issue would take shape in the coming days during a visit to Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan. It is not known how Turkish-American plans will be affected after the Taliban take over power.
As of late afternoon Aug. 15, Turkish officials have not reported any negative situation concerning the safety of the Turkish troops at the airport and the Turkish diplomatic staff. The Turkish Embassy is continuing its operations from the protected area of the airport due to security reasons and the Turkish citizens willing to leave the country will be evacuated by Turkish Airlines, officials said.
As a matter of fact, Turkey was seeing the coming of the Taliban as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan already signaled his intention to meet senior leaders of the Taliban and discuss Turkey’s continued mission for keeping the airport open. According to diplomatic sources, Turkey has always kept its communication channels with the Taliban open but Erdoğan’s statement shows that Ankara will not hesitate to establish a direct dialogue with the group in the new period.
An agreement needs to be compromised with the Taliban if Turkey remains interested in operating the airport. Many in Ankara believe that the Taliban will prefer to keep the airport operational in order not to be fully isolated from the rest of the world.
But, obviously, it is very hard to predict how things will develop in the coming days. International agencies report that many embassies have already been evacuated and foreigners are leaving Kabul. It is very likely that the diplomatic presence in the Afghan capital will very soon vanish and the necessity of keeping the Turkish troops at the airport could become unnecessary.
The opposition parties, who were already criticizing the government for negotiating the prolonged stay of the Turkish troops in Afghanistan, have reiterated their call to withdraw the soldiers immediately.
Ankara will surely reassess the situation in line with the unfolding developments.