Turkey drops Kabul airport plans amid Taliban victory in Afghanistan: report

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The Turkish government has dropped plans to take over the airport in Kabul after NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid turmoil following the Taliban’s victory in the country but is ready to provide support if the militant group requests it, Reuters reported on Monday, citing two Turkish sources.

Turkey, which has several hundred soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, had offered to keep them in Kabul to take charge of security at the international airport after other NATO members pulled out and was discussing details with Washington and the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The plans were thrown into disarray over the past two days as the Taliban insurgents entered the Afghan capital on Sunday, prompting Ghani to flee the country and thousands of Afghans, also hoping to escape, throng the airport.

“At the point reached, there is total chaos at the Kabul airport. Order has been completely disrupted. At this stage, the process of Turkish soldiers taking up control of the airport has automatically been dropped,” one of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

“However, in the event that the Taliban asks for technical support, Turkey can provide security and technical support at the airport,” the person added.

Before the Islamist militants surged towards Kabul, Turkey had dismissed several warnings by the Taliban against keeping soldiers in Afghanistan to run the airport and Turkish officials had stated that Ankara remained committed to the plans and that it would wait to see how events unfolded in Kabul before making a final decision.

The move to scrap the plans comes after the rapid conquest of Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents following US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces after 20 years of war that cost billions of dollars, Reuters said.

Turkey’s opposition leaders have criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for the plans in Kabul, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from the region amid the uptick in violence.

“Our soldiers [in Afghanistan] don’t have security of life, it’s not right for them to be there. They should be withdrawn immediately,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Monday during his party’s online Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet daily.

“It isn’t right to approve the regime that emerged in Afghanistan as it is. [In this case], Turkey shouldn’t hurry to take steps without waiting for [the response of] the United Nations and the world,” he added.

Turkey’s nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener late on Monday slammed MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli for saying that it was “unthinkable” for our military elements to leave Afghanistan since the Turkish military presence in the country was “legitimate, friendly and peaceful.”

“They still argue that Turkish soldiers should stay in Afghanistan. Is there an Afghanistan left for our soldiers to stay in? Stop talking nonsense with the aim of ingratiating yourself with the US and pull our soldiers out of that swamp immediately!” Akşener tweeted.

The Turkish government had viewed the airport mission as a potential area of cooperation that could help heal frayed ties with Washington and other NATO allies, which have been strained over several issues.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday said his country was faced with an increasing wave of Afghan nationals attempting to migrate to Turkey through Iran as he urged an international effort to bring stability to the war-battered country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a closed-door meeting of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that Germany should cooperate with Turkey in dealing with a potential new refugee influx from Afghanistan, the Diken news website reported, citing the German Bild newspaper.

Merkel suggested providing humanitarian support to countries hosting Afghan refugees in the region in a bid to reduce and restrict refugee flows to Europe, Diken said.

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