Turkey still aims to maintain Kabul airport security

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Aug. 18 that Turkey still aims to maintain security at Kabul airport. "With the Taliban maintaining control over the country, a new picture appeared before us," he said.

U.S. Department of Defense service members defend aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021.

Duvar English 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Aug. 18 that Turkey still aims to maintain security at Kabul airport, after Taliban fighters took control of Afghanistan's capital.

NATO member Turkey, which has hundreds of troops in Afghanistan, had been discussing with the United States a proposal to keep those forces in the country to guard and run the airport after the withdrawal of other NATO forces.

Turkish sources told Reuters this week that those original plans were dropped because of the chaos in Kabul, but that Turkey would still offer the Taliban security and technical assistance at the airport.

"With the Taliban maintaining control over the country, a new picture appeared before us," Erdoğan said in a television interview. "Now we are making our plans according to these new realities that were formed on the field and we are continuing our talks accordingly."

Turkey was continuing contacts with all sides in the process, Erdoğan said, and welcomed what he described as moderate statements by the Taliban since they swept into Kabul.

"For the calm of the people of Afghanistan, the well-being of our Turkish kinsmen living in the country and protecting the interests of our country, we are open to any cooperation," he said, repeating an offer to host Taliban leaders for talks.

'Too early to discuss'

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, meanwhile, has also commented on the issue, saying that the conditions in Afghanistan have changed and Turkey is evaluating the new situation before taking any decision on its future role at the Kabul airport. 

Speaking to daily Hürriyet, Çavuşoğlu said it is too early to discuss whether Turkey has canceled its plans to continue to protect and operate the airport.

Noting that Turkey is “on the military wing of Kabul Airport,” Çavuşoğlu said: “On the civilian wing, there is chaos. There was also a problem with the landing and take-offs of the planes. Unfortunately, some people also died. We are very sad.”

Çavuşoğlu said that evacuations are ongoing from the airport, adding “We have brought back a group of our citizens.”

Turkey works with other countries, especially the U.S., on evacuation and other issues at the airport, said Çavuşoğlu, adding that priority is to evacuate the rest of the Turkish citizens who want to return.

“Right now, our priority is different. We will make the decision about our soldiers together under the leadership of our president,” he added.

Afghan politicians, Taliban negotiating

Çavuşoğlu said that Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai, and politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are negotiating with the Taliban.

“We hope that they can reach an agreement among themselves by peaceful means,” he said.

The minister said, Turkey, like all other countries including the U.S., is willing to establish contact with the Taliban in a bid to protect its interests.

“It does not mean that we approve their rule or ideology. China, Russia, Iran are all negotiating with the Taliban. Everyone is being pragmatic,” he added.

Noting that he welcomed the Taliban’s announcement that they would not attack embassies, diplomatic missions, and foreigners in the country, Çavuşoğlu said: “They have not intervened in the operations of the airport. We said that we welcome these announcements.”

“We also said, ‘we welcome their messages,’ but we said that we are cautious, that is, we should see them in practice,” he added.

On Aug. 17, Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was in dialogue with all sides in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

"We would like to say that we welcome the messages given by the Taliban so far," he told reporters during a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman al-Safadi in the capital Amman.

‘Unplanned’ U.S. withdrawal

According to the Turkish minister, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was “unplanned.”

“I also told this to U.S. Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken.”

Referring to U.S. President Joe Biden’s press conference on Aug. 16 in which he defended his decision to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan, Çavuşoğlu said: “Biden tried to defend himself, but they stay for 20 years, and suddenly leave without an exit plan.”

“They made the same mistake in Iraq,” he added.

Çavuşoğlu said the “sudden and unplanned” U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan left chaos behind.

Biden had said that the U.S. gave Afghans "every chance to determine their own future."

"We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future," the president said at the White House.

On the rights of women and children in Afghanistan, Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey has always been “sensitive” about this issue.

“We want women to freely exercise all their rights in Afghanistan,” he added.