Istanbul, Turkey – As U.S. military and intelligence officers quietly flee Afghanistan, the security environment in the country has become increasingly fragile, particularly for Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport which serves as the gateway to Afghanistan. entry into the world.
Following initial bilateral talks with U.S. President Joe Biden during a NATO leadership summit in early June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkish troops could continue to stay at Kabul airport to guard him and help NATO withdrawal.
That may be on the condition that Turkey, a member of NATO, obtains the necessary diplomatic, financial and logistical support from the United States. Hungary, which participated in the airport mission as a member of NATO, and Pakistan may also be involved.
U.S. and Turkish defense officials are still negotiating the matter, and Turkey’s public opinion is divided. It is unclear whether Turkish troops will remain as part of another NATO mission, or on their own, as will Ankara’s military deployments in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
Erdogan’s announcement came with Turkey’s NATO membership being questioned, not only among its Western allies, but also in the country. Turkey’s relations with the West have been strained because of its purchase of one Russian S-400 missile defense system.
The purchase was canceled because the batteries are not compatible with NATO systems. Even the relations in fury are Ankara’s military presence in Libya, Syria and Iraq, and theirs oil and gas discovery activities in the eastern Mediterranean which brought Turkey and Greece into fury.
Ankara believes it was abandoned by its allies when they withdrew its air defense systems from the Syrian border, despite Turkey perceiving a direct threat from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Syrian Kurdish armed group, the UN People’s Protection Agency (YPG), which Turkey says is a branch of the PKK.
Ankara’s acquisition of the $ S-400 billion has triggered unprecedented U.S. sanctions on its NATO ally. Under the U.S. Anti-Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, any foreign government working with the Russian defense sector is at the forefront of U.S. sanctions.
“A great Islamic country”
Turkey has more than 500 troops in Afghanistan on a NATO mission without combat. Soldiers have been overseeing the training of Afghan security forces, and some are still serving at the capital’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
As the only Muslim member of NATO, Turkey’s non-combat troops have maintained a close relationship with all ethnic groups, including the Taliban, the Islamist movement and military organizations scattered throughout Afghanistan.
However, the Taliban – while continuing to take territory – have rejected Ankara’s proposal to guard and manage Kabul airport after the departure of US-led NATO forces.
“Turkey has been part of NATO forces for the last 20 years, so they must withdraw from Afghanistan on the basis of the agreement we signed with the United States on February 29, 2020.” , said the Taliban spokesman. Suhail Shaheen said in June.
“Otherwise, Turkey is a big Islamic country. Afghanistan has had historical relations with him. We hope to have close and good relations with them since a new Islamic government is established in the country in the future, ”he added.
Estimates suggest that the Taliban control nearly half of the 400 districts in Afghanistan. However, a Taliban delegation in Russia said Friday 85 percent of Afghan territory it was under the control of the group.
Analysts suggest that Turkey cannot stay in Afghanistan unless the Taliban agree. In the Turkish capital, the general perception is that the Taliban are an undeniable reality in Afghanistan. Officials say the group has changed its gift policies and it’s not what it was 20 years ago.
Hikmet Cetin, Turkey’s former deputy prime minister and former NATO civilian representative for Afghanistan, said that despite the Taliban’s demands for change, there is no answer to “how much”.
However, he is one of those who believes it is Turkey’s historical and cultural responsibility to stay and help the Afghan people after the NATO retreat, as long as Ankara has the support of the West – with the approval of the Taliban.
“While the Taliban’s political wing is in favor of reconciliation, the military wing is pursuing a military victory. They want to reconcile. Otherwise, nothing will change here in the last 19 years,” Cetin told Al Jazeera.
He stressed that Afghanistan needs support and any government in Kabul will require international recognition. It’s not clear if foreign missions will stop in a gift-ruled country, but a functional airport is what everyone needs in Kabul, he said.
International relations professor Mesut Hakki Casin said Turkey and the Taliban will agree in some way as “there is no impossibility in diplomacy.”
He argued that Turkey and the United States had turned a new page in relations during the recent summit of NATO leaders. “The US is a superpower, Turkey is not. For its vital interests, Turkey will stop.”
Casin stressed that Turkish troops have a positive image in the country, and have always acted within the scope of the law and have never had any direct conflict with the Taliban.
‘Take an active role’
Given his economic fragility and strained relations with the West, Erdogan wants to ensure that the necessary support is provided for his troops from the United States to stay in Afghanistan, observers say.
“Member States must uphold their founding principles and strengthen the alliance,” Erdogan told a news conference in Brussels last month.
“From the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, from Europe to Asia, the alliance should take an active role where the security umbrella provided by NATO is needed. The period is not an escape from responsibility. but a period of taking responsibility. In particular, NATO needs to take more effective initiatives in the face of global challenges. “
Despite his belief that Turkey should stay and protect Kabul airport, Cetin said the main reason for Ankara’s proposal is to please Washington.
“They are discussing Afghanistan without the Afghan government and the Taliban,” he said, noting that there has been a change of heart on the part of local tribes over the extension of the Turkish mission.
A military source, who asked not to be named, said Turkish troops without combat could continue only at Kabul airport for another two years, and there is no road map for their military presence after that. What will be mandatory for Turkey is whether it will be able to conduct appropriate public diplomacy between the ethnic groups of Afghanistan, a highly complex country.
The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated rapidly since foreign troops withdrew after 20 years, and hundreds of Afghan service members have done so. crossed the border into Tajikistan in response to the Taliban’s advance.
Tajikistan on Wednesday called on members of a Russia-led military bloc to help it address emerging security challenges from Afghanistan, hours after Moscow pledged to defend its regional allies affected by the unrest.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said Moscow is ready to deploy its military base in Tajikistan, one of its largest abroad, to ensure the security of its allies in the region.
After the first Russian diplomat raised this option, some observers wondered if this could lead to a possible cooperation between Moscow and Ankara – if Turkey manages to convince the US and the Taliban for their troops to remain.