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Turkey is trying to cement its role in Afghanistan

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Turkey is making an agreement with the US to resume security operations at Kabul’s civilian airport, offering NATO partners a rare opportunity to cooperate following a series of disputes that have strained relations.

This week, the United States left its main military base in Afghanistan, part of an accelerated retreat that led to a resurgent Taliban gaining ground and worrying that the country could fall into chaos.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Joe Biden at the NATO summit last month that Turkey could manage security at the airport if the US president provides it with the necessary “diplomatic, logistical and financial support.” for the mission. Erdogan also acknowledged “the reality of the Taliban,” saying Ankara will continue the discussion with the militants.

Hulusi Akar, Turkish Secretary of Defense, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had a “constructive and positive” telephone conversation Wednesday about “the safe operation of Hamid Karzai International Airport.” , said the Turkish defense minister, adding that they will speak again on Thursday.

Akar said this week that Turkey was determined to make “contributions to the security, peace and well-being of the Afghan people,” according to state broadcaster TRT.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Joe Biden during the NATO summit last month that Turkey could manage airport security if the U.S. president provided “diplomatic, logistical support. and financial ”© Olivier Matthys / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

However, much more depends on Turkey reaching an agreement with the Taliban, which is constantly moving towards the capital and has made it clear that it will not tolerate foreign forces on Afghan soil after the United States leaves, said Hikmet Cetin, a former Turkish foreign minister who has served as NATO’s former civilian representative in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is now in the midst of a de facto civil war. Turkey needs a ceasefire and an agreement with the Taliban, who are now telling them, “They are coming with NATO, and you are going with NATO,” he said. “Without the approval of the Taliban, Turkey assumes this role is a mistake. It is too risky.”

Keeping Hamid Karzai International Airport open as a safe gate is crucial if embassies and humanitarian aid organizations are to remain in Afghanistan. “We are aware that Kabul airport needs to be opened and operated. If it is not, the embassies will withdraw, transforming Afghanistan into an isolated state,” Akar said.

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Turkey, NATO’s second largest army, has already carried out military operations at the airport. Akar ruled out increasing the battalion by 500 people, and Erdogan said he hoped to recruit Hungary and Pakistan for the mission. Pakistan has already refused to allow the US to launch airstrikes from its ground. Pakistan expects Turkey to seek “logistical and transit support” in the country and “share intelligence on Afghanistan,” a senior Pakistani government official told the Financial Times on condition of anonymity. .

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a former observer in Afghanistan located in Peshawar, the border town along the Afghan border, said Pakistan’s participation will inflate tensions with the current Afghan government, which sees Islamabad as the main supporter of the Taliban. “The best Pakistan can do is informally support Turkey. In addition, I think it is not in Pakistan’s interest,” he said.

Turkey, which has supported the United States in a no-fight role since the war began in 2001, shares religious and other ties with Afghanistan. Erdogan also sees the initiative as an opportunity to “recalibrate relations” with the United States after years of alienation due to divergent foreign policies, said Hasan Selim Ozertem, an independent security analyst.

“Turkey believes that this step can demonstrate that it remains an indispensable partner of NATO, a reminder that it can work with the United States, which is one of the few countries that can assume such responsibility,” he said.

Following the Biden election, Erdogan is committed to repairing ties with the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Ankara for its acquisition of an advanced Russian missile system designed to shoot down NATO jets. An agreement on Afghanistan “puts them [the disputes] in deep freezing and gives the sides a positive agenda to focus on, “Ozertem said. U.S. government officials declined to comment on its progress toward an agreement with Turkey.

Learn more about Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi is Aime Williams in Washington


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