Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday demanded funding from the United States for a force of Turkish troops that could prospectively guard the airport in Kabul after U.S. forces complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Erdogan reportedly said Turkey actually has three requirements for “taking over the management of Kabul airport,” including American diplomatic support and the handover of U.S. military infrastructure in Afghanistan to Turkish forces.
“There will be serious financial and administrative difficulties,” Erdogan added, saying America “will give the necessary support to Turkey in this respect as well.”
Erdogan waved aside the Taliban’s vigorous objections to any continued foreign military presence in Afghanistan. Last week, the Taliban warned of dire “consequences” for any “reprehensible” plan to protect the airport with foreign troops.
The Taliban denounced the proposal as “ill-advised, a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and against our national interests.”
“In the statement made by the Taliban, there is no phrase ‘we don’t want Turkey,’” Erdogan responded when asked about the threat on Monday.
The Taliban press release was literally entitled “Statement of Islamic Emirate Concerning Extension of Occupation by Turkish Forces in Afghanistan,” and it did specifically call on Turkey to withdraw all troops from Afghan soil.
Erdogan also poked back at the Taliban by urging them to “end the occupation of their brothers’ soil and show the world that peace is prevailing in Afghanistan right away,” a request the violent Islamist extremists are unlikely to either comply with or accept with good humor.
The Taliban said in June that it views the roughly 500 Turkish troops in Afghanistan as “part of NATO forces for the past 20 years,” and it expects them to “withdraw from Afghanistan on the basis of the agreement we signed with the U.S. on February 29, 2020,” along with the rest of NATO’s soldiers.
“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 [sic],” a Taliban spokesman added in June. Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are openly politically Islamists.
Erdogan said Tuesday that he understands the Taliban has some “discomforts” with his airport plan but said the “process” will be discussed with Taliban leaders. He said the Taliban should “hold these talks much more comfortably with Turkey” than its prior negotiations with the United States, stressing Muslim solidarity against “imperial powers” and implying Turkey has supported Taliban resistance against American occupation for the past twenty years.
Reuters suggested Erdogan is hoping he can “soothe U.S. ties that are strained on several fronts, including [Turkey’s] purchase of Russian S-400 missile defenses,” by offering to defend the Kabul airport. The missile purchase violates NATO protocol, and they are not interoperable with the other militaries in the pact.
If this was indeed Erdogan’s goal, he might have refrained from insisting the U.S. bankroll the operation, suggesting Turkey supported two decades of murderous Taliban terrorism against American troops, and making his remarks on Tuesday from the island of Cyprus, where Turkey insists a mythical pro-Turkish government recognized by no other power controls half of the real estate. The day before Erdogan called on America to pay for Turkish troops in Afghanistan, he promised to spend lavish sums building a new government complex for the Turkish Cypriots.
The Afghan government has been somewhat lukewarm toward Turkey’s proposal. President Ashraf Ghani recently insisted that airport security is “the sole responsibility of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” while allowing that “any assistance offered by friendly nations is important.”
Other Afghan officials thanked Turkey for its support in July and expressed appreciation for Ankara’s negotiations with the Taliban. Ghani’s government appears nervous about defending its assets in Kabul from Taliban attack, and conscious that support from the rest of the world will become problematic if Hamid Karzai Airport is severely damaged or forced to shut down, but also worried about relying too obviously on foreign forces or conceding that its own troops cannot defend Kabul.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar insisted last week that progress has been made in talks with the Biden administration for Turkey to secure the Kabul airport. Akar said “a framework was drawn and work continues in specified fields.”
The Pentagon and State Department acknowledged that talks are ongoing and welcomed “Turkey’s constructive role,” without providing details on the status of those negotiations. At the very least, there is not much enthusiasm in Washington for sending American troops to protect the airport, and as a NATO member, Turkey could be the least unpalatable option.