Turkey drops Kabul airport plans, offers Taliban ‘technical support’

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Turkey has dropped plans to take over Kabul airport after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan but is ready to provide support if the Taliban request it, two Turkish sources said on Monday amid turmoil following the militant group’s victory in Afghanistan.

Turkey, which has 600 troops in Afghanistan, had offered to keep them in Kabul to guard and operate the airport after other NATO members pulled out and was discussing details with Washington and the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The plans were thrown into disarray over the past two days after Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the Taliban swept in to Kabul and thousands of Afghans, also hoping to escape, thronged the airport on Monday.

The Taliban had also warned Turkey against keeping soldiers in Afghanistan to run the airport, warnings which Ankara had dismissed before the Islamist militants surged towards the capital.

“At the point reached, there is total chaos at Kabul airport. Order has been completely disrupted,” a Turkish source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At this stage, the process of Turkish soldiers taking up control of the airport has automatically been dropped,” the source added.

“However, in the event that the Taliban asks for technical support, Turkey can provide security and technical support at the airport.”

Foreign and Afghan nationals line up to board a French military transport plane at the Kabul airport on August 17, 2021. AFP
Foreign and Afghan nationals line up to board a French military transport plane at the Kabul airport on August 17, 2021. (AFP)

The move to scrap the plans comes after the rapid conquest of Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents following US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces after 20 years of war that cost almost a trillion dollars.

Opposition parties in Turkey had criticised the government’s plans, saying such a mission would put Turkish soldiers at risk and calling for their immediate withdrawal amid the uptick in violence.

Until the Taliban’s entry into Kabul, Turkish officials had said Ankara remained committed to the plans and that it would wait to see how events unfolded in Kabul before making a final decision.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has called for calm in Afghanistan and criticised the Taliban’s advance, said last week he could meet the Taliban as part of efforts to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

Ankara had viewed the airport mission as a potential area of cooperation that could help heal frayed ties with Washington and other NATO allies, which have been strained over several issues.

Ankara on Monday evacuated civilians and its citizens from Kabul on a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.

State broadcaster TRT Haber said 324 people had been brought to Istanbul from Kabul on the evacuation flight.

Source: Arab Weekly

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