The Taliban terror group recently asked Turkey to operate Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, though Ankara has yet to decide if it will comply with the request, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Friday.
“The Taliban have made a request for us to operate Kabul airport. We have not yet made a decision on this matter,” Erdoğan told reporters at a news conference held at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on August 27 shortly before he departed for a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“We will make a decision after the administration (in Afghanistan) is clear,” the Turkish president added, referring to the unfolding political situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban deposed Kabul’s U.S.-backed government on August 15. The action plunged Kabul, the Afghan national capital and seat of government, into chaos. The Taliban subsequently declared full control over the country, which it says it has renamed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Elsewhere during Friday’s press conference, Erdoğan revealed that Turkish government officials recently met with Taliban leaders at the Turkish embassy in Kabul for a conversation that lasted “more than three hours,” though he did not disclose exactly when the summit took place.
“If necessary, we will have the opportunity to hold such meetings again,” the Turkish president added.
Turkey in June agreed to tentative plans to provide security at Kabul’s airport after Western forces completed a withdrawal from Afghanistan, then slated to finish by August 31. The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on August 15 threw those plans into disarray, however, and Ankara allegedly canceled its proposal to guard Kabul airport as of August 16, according to a report by Reuters citing anonymous Turkish government sources.
“However, in the event that the Taliban asks for technical support, Turkey can provide security and technical support at the airport,” one of the sources added.
Turkey was primed to provide security assistance at Kabul airport because it has maintained a troop presence in Afghanistan over the past two decades as a NATO ally of the U.S. in its Afghan War, launched in the autumn of 2001. The Turkish National Defense Ministry announced on August 25 that it had begun recalling its troops from Afghanistan. It remains unclear how many Turkish military personnel, if any, remain in the country. Reuters estimated that 600 Turkish soldiers were in Afghanistan as of August 16.
Turkey and Albania are the only two NATO member states with a majority Muslim population, in particular Sunni Muslim, which is the dominant Islamic sect in Afghanistan. Erdoğan leads Turkey’s Islamist ruling party, the Justice and Development (AKP) party, and offered to meet with the Islamist Taliban group on August 11 to help mediate Afghanistan’s political and security crisis.
“Turkey’s relevant institutions are currently working until we have some talks with the Taliban. Maybe even I can be in a position to receive the person who will be their leader,” the Turkish president said during a live TV interview broadcast jointly on the Turkish news channels Kanal D and CNN Turk.