WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under the 2020 deal for the pullout of US forces, a Taleban spokesman said on Thursday (June 10), effectively rejecting Ankara’s proposal to guard and run Kabul’s airport after US-led Nato forces depart.
The development raises serious questions for the United States, other countries and international organisations with missions in Kabul about how to securely evacuate their personnel from landlocked Afghanistan should fighting threaten the capital.
It also appeared to dash Ankara’s hopes of using the securing of Kabul airport to help improve ties with Washington – strained by Turkey’s purchase of Russian defense systems – in talks set for Monday between President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan Asked in a text message whether the Taleban rejected Turkey’s proposal to keep forces in Kabul to guard and run the international airport after other foreign troops leave, the Taleban spokesman in Doha responded that they should go as well.
“Turkey was part of Nato forces in the past 20 years, so as such, they should withdraw from Afghanistan on the basis of the Agreement we signed with US on 29th Feb 2020,” Suhail Shaheen told Reuters.
“Otherwise, Turkey is a great Islamic country. Afghanistan has had historical relations with it. We hope to have close and good relations with them as a new Islamic government is established in the country in future,” he added.
The State Department and the Turkish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Under the February 2020 deal secured with the Islamist Taleban under former President Donald Trump, all US forces were to be out of Afghanistan by May 1.
But Biden said in April that the pullout would be completed by the 20th anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacks on the United States that prompted the US-led invasion and ouster of the Taleban government that sheltered the group.
Turkish officials say they made the Kabul airport proposal at a Nato meeting in May when the United States and its partners agreed to a plan to withdraw their forces by Sept 11 after 20 years of backing the Afghan government in a war against the Taleban.
With violence raging, many US lawmakers and current and former officials fear the departure of the foreign forces and stalled peace talks are pushing Afghanistan into an all-out civil war that could return the Taleban to power.
The Pentagon says the US withdrawal is more than 50 per cent complete. Turkey, with more than 500 soldiers still in Afghanistan training security forces, now has the largest foreign military contingent there.
Australia closed its embassy last month because of security concerns. The Taleban’s effective rejection of the Turkish plan to secure the airport could prompt other countries to shutter their missions.
The development also poses a quandary for the Biden administration, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowing as recently as this week at a congressional hearing to maintain a US diplomatic presence in Kabul.