Turkey to hold high-level meeting to decide on Kabul airport: Defense minister
Turkey will hold a high-level meeting under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss ongoing talks with the United States over the former’s bid to operate Kabul International Airport after the completion of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the defense minister has said.
“Our contacts [with the U.S.] will continue. No decision has been taken at the moment. We will discuss the developments and the results of the talks at a meeting chaired by our president. After the approval of our president, we will execute our plan,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu Agency on July 2.
Technical talks between Turkey and the U.S. over the continued stay of the Turkish troops in Kabul’s airport are still ongoing, Akar recalled. A delegation from Pentagon had paid a visit to Ankara to discuss the technical aspects of the deal with the Turkish Defense Ministry. Turkey says it can extend its stay in Afghanistan if its financial, logistical and security conditions are fulfilled by the U.S. through a bilateral agreement.
Akar did not give details about when the meeting on the Afghanistan mission will take place. “The airport needs to be kept operational. We are aware of it. In case the airport cannot operate, embassies will have to be shut down, and Afghanistan will turn into an isolated country and seriously suffer in terms of its international relations,” Akar stated.
Turkey’s talks for meeting its conditions are ongoing with the U.S. and some other countries, Akar informed, underlining the need for political decisions taken by the U.N. and NATO and for an agreement with the Afghan government.
“There is no decision yet. But talks continue. Afghanistan is our brother. We want to do our best for their security and comfort as we have been doing,” Akar suggested, recalling that the Kabul airport operated under the Turkish troops during the past six years.
NATO decided to end its 20-year-long mission in Afghanistan in April 2021 following the U.S. decision to withdraw all of its troops from the country until Sept. 11. The reports suggest that Washington has expedited the withdrawal process as the American troops left the Bagram Airport, one of the key bases on the north of Kabul, to the Afghan defense authorities as of July 2.
Erdoğan and U.S. President Joe Biden talked about Turkey’s continued mission in Kabul at a bilateral meeting on June 14 on the sidelines of NATO leaders’ summit in Brussels. Erdoğan had signaled Turkey’s willingness to continue the operation there as a strong member of NATO. Turkey currently has nearly 600 non-combat troops tasked to provide the security of the Kabul airport. It’s not clear whether the number will be increased after the withdrawal of all allied troops from the country. Turkey has suggested partnering with Hungary and Pakistan in handling the job, but there is no clarity over the scope of the Turkish proposal.
New mandate can be sought from parliament
In the meantime, Vice President Fuat Oktay told private broadcaster NTV that a new mandate may be sought from the parliament for the continued mission of the Turkish troops in Afghanistan should there be a necessity in line with conditions
The Turkish parliament extended the authorization for the stay of the Turkish troops in Afghanistan to 18 months in early 2021. The opposition parties, which criticize the government for its intention to keep troops in Afghanistan, press on the government to seek a new mandate from the parliament.