Turkey starts to withdraw soldiers from Afghanistan

Turkey has started to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, said the Turkish Defense Ministry in a statement on Aug. 25. Following the ministry's statement, Erdoğan's spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said that Turkey could still continue the operation of the Kabul international airport with civilian experts.

This file photo shows a group of Turkish soldiers and Afghan policemen in Kabul.

Duvar English 

Turkey has started to evacuate its soldiers from Afghanistan, said the Turkish Defense Ministry in a statement on Aug. 25.

"The Turkish Armed Forces are returning to their homeland with the pride of successfully fulfilling the task entrusted to them. The chaos that happened at Hamid Karzai Airport was intervened together with troops of other countries, and the security at the airport was ensured and activities were kept running," state-run Anadolu Agency cited the ministry as saying.

The ministry further said that a total of 1,129 Turkish civilians have been so far evacuated by military aircraft from Afghanistan. 

Erdoğan: We approach Taliban's messages with cautious optimism 

The Turkish government has praised what it described as moderate statements by the Taliban since they captured Kabul on Aug. 15, and has said it is open to engaging with them once a new government is formed.

"We are approaching the messages from the leaders of the Taliban with cautious optimism for now," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in the eastern province of Bitlis on Aug. 25. 

"Not the Taliban's words but its activities, actions and the steps it will take will determine how the process ahead of us in Afghanistan will be shaped," he added.

On the wave of migration from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, Erdoğan said Turkey is already hosting at least five million refugees and the country cannot handle an additional "migration burden."

“It is important that Afghanistan reaches stability to reduce the pressure of migration so that new tragedies do not occur on the western borders of our country,” said Erdoğan.

Turkey may run Kabul airport with civilian experts: Erdoğan's spokesperson

During a live televised interview, Erdoğan's spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said that Turkey could still continue the operation of the Kabul international airport even after the withdrawal of Turkish troops.

"After the withdrawal of our soldiers, we can continue our mission to run the airport. Our civilian experts can provide support for the airport. There is an ongoing process with regards to this [with the Taliban]," Kalın said told NTV on Aug. 25. 

He further said that the Turkish troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan could be completed in 24-36 hours and that one plane has already taken off. 

"The security at the airport needs to be ensured. The details of this will be talked but there is a need for a security infrastructure. I do not think that the Taliban has such a capacity. They will also probably ask for such a service [from Turkey]. The complete shut down of the airport is not something that they would also want," Kalın said. 

Reuters reported earlier on Aug. 25 that the Taliban have asked Turkey for technical help to run Kabul airport after the departure of foreign forces but insist that Ankara's military also withdraw fully by the end-August deadline.

"The Taliban have made a request for technical support in running Kabul airport," Reuters quoted a senior Turkish official as saying.

"Ensuring the safety of workers without the Turkish Armed Forces is a risky job," he reportedly said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Talks with the Taliban on the issue were ongoing and, in the meantime, preparations for a troop withdrawal had been completed, he said.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said on Aug. 24 although the militant group “wants good relations with Turkey,” it does not want Turkish troops on Afghan soil.

Turkey had been responsible for securing Kabul airport under the NATO deployment and has been involved in evacuation efforts over the last two weeks.

The United States says it is coordinating with regional partners, as well as the Taliban, about the future operation of Kabul airport.