Key role for Turkey but no NATO decision on Kabul airport: Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on June 14 that allies are exploring “how to ensure the continuation of the international airport in Kabul" and that Turkey plays a "key role" in these efforts. He also said that the alliance has not yet decided on who would run the airport.

An aerial view of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, previously known as Kabul International Airport, in Afghanistan, February 11, 2016.

Reuters - Duvar English 

NATO has not decided during a leaders' summit on June 14 on who would run the Kabul international airport after the U.S.-led withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan, but Turkey would play a "key role," NATO's chief said.

“NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to continue to stand with Afghanistan, with training, international support for Afghan forces and institutions, and funding to ensure the continued functioning of the International Airport,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. 

In a joint communique after their summit in Brussels, NATO leaders said they agreed to maintain funding for Kabul's civilian airport. 

"Recognizing its importance to an enduring diplomatic and international presence, as well as to Afghanistan's connectivity with the world, NATO will provide transitional funding to ensure continued functioning of Hamid Karzai International Airport," the leaders said. 

Last week, Turkey, with about 500 soldiers still in Afghanistan, offered to guard and run the Hamid Karzai airport, but the Taliban warned that it would be “unacceptable” to them and a “mistake” on the part of any nation to retain a military presence in the country. 

“The presence of foreign forces under whatever name or by whichever country in our homeland is unacceptable for the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate [the name of the Taliban’s ex-government in Kabul],” the insurgent group cautioned in a policy statement sent to journalists.
The Taliban insisted that security of airports, foreign embassies and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of Afghans, saying that “no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence” in Afghanistan.   

Under the February 2020 deal secured with the Taliban under former U.S. President Donald Trump, all U.S. forces were to be out of Afghanistan by May 1.

But U.S. President Joe 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 U.S.-led invasion and ouster of the Taliban 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 Taliban.

With violence raging, many U.S. 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 Taliban to power.

The Pentagon says the U.S. withdrawal is more than 50 percent complete. Turkey now has the largest foreign military contingent there.