Turkish military to stay course in Kabul

Turkish military to stay course in Kabul

Turkish military to stay course in Kabul

Turkish soldiers carry the coffins of victims of a crashed NATO helicopter, in Kabul March 17. Turkey says it will continue its army presence in Afghanistan. AA photo

A helicopter crash that killed 12 Turkish troops in Kabul on March 16 will have no an immediate effect on Turkey’s continued military presence in Afghanistan, the Turkish government has said.

“This accident saddened all of us and experts are examining the causes of this incident. But it won’t change our stance concerning Afghanistan,” a diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News over the weekend. The Turkish contribution to Afghanistan is a reflection of the Turkish people’s gratitude to the Afghan people, the source said.

The deaths of the 12 soldiers represented Turkey’s worst military disaster in Afghanistan since the country’s mission began in 2002. Turkey will continue to command the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) command in Kabul until Nov. 1, 2012. Alongside the deep sadness caused by the crash, the incident has also sparked questions about the Turkish army’s functions in the war-torn country with the leaders of both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) criticizing the government for maintaining troops in Afghanistan, suggesting that the roughly 1,800 Turkish soldiers stationed in the country were merely serving U.S. interests.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç responded to the criticisms March 17, saying: “We are not an isolated country, living all alone in an island like Robinson [Crusoe]. The Turkish army has peacekeeping and peacemaking responsibilities in the world, from Somalia to elsewhere. It will continue to have such [responsibilities].”

Afghanistan is not a foreign country for Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said yesterday. “Turkish troops were not in Afghanistan as part of an international force but to defend the homeland.”

Afghanistan’s rebuilding

Echoing the comments of senior government figures, diplomatic sources said the Turkish military’s mission in Afghanistan was limited to patrolling and did not include the fight against terrorism or demining operations.

“Apart from security-related missions, our troops are also helping Afghans rebuild their country,” one source said, providing information about the activities of two provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) in the eastern region of Wardak and the northern region of Jowzjan. Turkey is also training the Afghan army and sponsoring the Military High School in Kabul, the sources said. Some 12,000 Afghan troops have been trained so far by the Turkish army. In addition, around $500 million in assistance has been provided to Afghanistan by the Turkish International Development Agency (TİKA), which has completed 21 of its intended 54 projects.

Ceremony in Ankara

Following a massive ceremony at Bagram Airport in Kabul, the bodies of the 12 troops –four majors, two captains, two first lieutenants and three non-commissioned officers – were taken to Ankara late March 17 in a military plane.

The 12 fallen soldiers will be saluted during a large and high-profile ceremony at a military installation in Ankara today or tomorrow. Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said a technical delegation accompanied by a state prosecutor had been sent to Kabul to investigate the crash.