Qatar and Turkey Discuss Helping Taliban Run Kabul Airport

A Taliban member looks up standing next to a damaged helicopter at the airport in Kabul on August 31, 2021, after the US has pulled all its troops out of the country to end a brutal 20-year war -- one that started and ended with the hardline Islamist in power. …
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said on Thursday that his nation and the government of Turkey will contribute to the reopening of Kabul’s international airport, currently under the control of the Taliban terrorist organization.

Kabul’s airport, named “Hamid Karzai” after the corrupt former president, was the sight of weeks of chaos following the Taliban’s seizure of the capital city on August 15, as thousands of Afghans desperately tried to board evacuation flights to the United States and other destinations. Many of those fleeing were believed to be individuals who worked with America during the 20-year occupation of the country or with the now-former Afghan government, whose president, Ashraf Ghani, fled without a fight hours after initial reports that the Taliban had reached Kabul.

A jihadist suicide bombing killed nearly 200 people, including 13 American troops, at the Kabul airport last week. The Islamic State (ISIS), for years not a significant player in the Afghan terrorist scene, claimed responsibility for the attack, having allegedly passed one of its suicide bombers through Taliban security.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops, at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the August 26 twin suicide bombs, which killed scores of people including 13 US troops, at Kabul airport on August 27, 2021. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

Like ISIS, the Taliban is a Sunni jihadist organization. It is currently the de facto government of Afghanistan. On August 31, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it had pulled all military service members from the country, leaving the airport to the Taliban.

Taliban leaders currently are not believed to have the resources to man the airport, including air traffic control staff, technical administrators, pilots, and other key personnel. Reports last week indicated that Taliban leaders had initially reached out to Turkey, an Islamist country and NATO member previously in charge of the airport, for help restoring commercial flights.

Al-Thani, the Qatari foreign minister, said at a press conference Thursday that Doha and Ankara were in talks to restore functionality to the airport with the Taliban’s blessing.

“We are engaging with them [the Taliban], and also working with Turkey if they can provide any technical assistance on that front. Hopefully in the next few days there will be some good news,” al-Thani reportedly said. “There is no clear indication when it is going to be fully operational yet … We remain hopeful that we will be able to operate it as soon as possible.”

Qatar, often accused of supporting jihadist terrorism, has hosted the Taliban’s “political office” in Doha for years. Doha hosted talks between senior Taliban leaders and the administration for former President Donald Trump last year that resulted in an agreement that would have seen American forces leave Afghanistan by May 1. Biden’s decision to break the agreement prompted the Taliban to go on a nationwide conquest campaign culminating with the takeover of Kabul last month.

Qatar has thus played a major role in Taliban attempts at diplomacy. Notably, a day before al-Thani suggested Doha would offer technical aid to run the airport, a Qatar Airways flight became the first civilian flight to land at the Kabul airport since America’s departure.

Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had claimed last week that Taliban leaders wanted Turkey to run the airport.

“The Taliban have made a request regarding the operation of the Kabul airport. They say, ‘We’ll ensure security and you can operate it,'” Erdogan said. “But we have not made a decision yet because there is always a possibility of death and such things there.”

Erdogan asserted that Turkey would decide if it would take the offer only after Taliban jihadists announced the creation of a government, including appropriate ministries, bureaucratic leaders, and administrative tasks.

Turkey had previously volunteered to man the airport in July, under the auspices of the U.S. government. America invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which created NATO, in 2001 following the September 11 jihadist attacks, requiring Turkish military action. Turkey ran security at the airport through August 25, when the Turkish Defense Ministry departed, proclaiming “the pride of successfully fulfilling the task entrusted to them.” The jihadist suicide bombing occurred less than 24 hours later.

The Associated Press

Taliban fighters stand guard inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s international airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war. (AP Photo/Kathy Gannon)

Reopening the Kabul airport to civilian commercial flights will be pivotal to thousands reportedly trying to escape the Taliban’s rule currently. Among them are an unknown number of Americans the Biden administration admitted to abandoning there, including at least 30 California children as confirmed by local school officials there. In addition to abandoned American citizens, a large number of interpreters, former embassy staffers, and others who aided the U.S. government during its presence in the country reportedly have no way out of the country.

Taliban terrorists banned Afghan citizens from leaving the country last week, claiming Afghanistan needed skilled citizens to stay and make a Taliban regime a success. Taliban officials later claimed they would allow free travel for Afghans, but only once the Kabul international airport was no longer in American hands and fully functional for commercial airliners. Al-Thani, the top Qatari diplomat, reminded the Taliban of that commitment on Thursday.

A U.S. Marine with Joint Task Force - Crisis Response assists evacuees at an Evacuation Control Check Point (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 26. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)

A U.S. Marine with Joint Task Force – Crisis Response assists evacuees at an Evacuation Control Check Point (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 26. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)

“It’s very important … that the Taliban demonstrate their commitment to provide safe passage and freedom of movement for the people of Afghanistan,” he told reporters.

While many nations – among them Turkey and Qatar, but also China, Russia, Pakistan, and even the United States – have left the door open to the possibility of recognizing the Taliban as the formal government of Afghanistan, none have done so at press time.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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