Turkey Prolongs Its Military Presence in Afghanistan for 2 Years

Syria's Idlib at heart of tense Russia-Turkey face-off
AFP/ILYAS AKENGIN

Lawmakers in Turkey on Tuesday approved a measure to extend the nation’s deployment of forces in Afghanistan for another two years as part of the U.S.-NATO mission against jihadi groups there.

According to the Pentagon, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is home to the highest concentration of terrorist groups in the world, including the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), among others.

On Tuesday, the Turkish parliament ratified a motion to prolong Turkey’s military presence in Afghanistan soon after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it is considering withdrawing nearly half of the 14,000 American troops deployed to the South Asian nation.

“A legislation will put into effect on Jan. 6, 2019, allowing the Turkish government to send troops to Afghanistan to support the NATO-led mission Resolute Support [RS],” Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reports, later adding, “The legislation that was first passed in 2015 also grants the government authority to permit foreign army personnel to be transported to and from Afghanistan through Turkey.”

Afghan forces took the lead of security responsibilities in Afghanistan after former U.S. President Barack Obama and NATO ended their combat operations in Afghanistan at the end 2014 and withdrew most of their forces, a move that plunged the South Asian country into chaos.

By the end of 2015, the Taliban had become the world’s most prolific terrorist group, according to Obama’s State Department.

The Taliban now controls more territory and has more fighters than during any other times since U.S. troops removed the jihadi group from power at the end of 2001.

Since the beginning of 2015, the U.S.-NATO mission has been to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), which the American military believes is currently taking an unsustainable amount of casualties, primarily at the hands of the Taliban.

U.S. President Donald Trump inherited deteriorating security conditions in Afghanistan from his predecessor. Reluctantly, Trump intensified America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan, deploying additional troops and launching a record number of airstrikes against jihadi groups in the country, which also include the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Turkey is one of the countries fighting ISIS in the Middle East, mainly, it alleges, in Syria. Last week, the Trump administration announced plans to pull the 2,000 American troops from Syria, handing the fight against ISIS in the region to Turkey, which vowed to eliminate the terrorist group.

Soon after the Syria withdrawal announcement, the Trump administration said it was considering plans to reduce the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks by about 7,000.

Currently, there are about 16,000 international forces in Afghanistan, including an estimated 2,000 from NATO allies and non-NATO partner nations. The rest are from the United States.

NATO indicated that it remains committed to its train, advise, and assist mission in Afghanistan — known as Resolute Support — after America’s Afghanistan withdrawal plans came to light, noting that the ANDSF, which includes military and police units, already have the main responsibility for security in the country.

In a statement to Politico, Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO, said:

In general, let me remind you that the Afghan army and police have been fully in charge of the security of Afghanistan for over four years. They are a brave, committed and increasingly capable force, who have ensured the security of the parliamentary elections earlier this year.

NATO leads a coalition of 41 nations in our Resolute Support Mission. Our aim is to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces, as they create the conditions for peace. At the NATO summit in July, allied leaders also agreed to extend funding for the Afghan security forces until 2024. Earlier this month, NATO foreign ministers expressed steadfast commitment to ensuring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan. Our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home.

The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly said the planned U.S. withdrawal will have little impact on the fighting capacity of the ANDSF.

In October 2001, U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks carried out by al-Qaeda with the help of the Afghan Taliban. Nevertheless, the Taliban now controls or contests about 45 percent of Afghanistan, according to a U.S. watchdog agency.

Under Trump, the U.S. has intensified efforts to bring the Taliban to the peace negotiation table, making reconciliation between Kabul and the terrorist group the primary tenet of its strategy to end the more than 17-year-old war.

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