Turkey may help run Kabul airport after withdrawal of troops: Erdoğan aide

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Turkey’s presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın has said Ankara may provide civilians to help run the Kabul airport following the departure of Turkish troops that had been stationed there for the past six years, local media reported on Wednesday.

As the US military aims to wrap up its evacuation mission in less than a week, Turkey has also begun withdrawing its troops from the airport, according to a statement by the Turkish Defense Ministry on Wednesday.

After the troop withdrawal was announced, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Ankara was still interested in playing a role in Afghanistan, keeping its lines of communication open with Taliban leaders.

Kalın on Wednesday said in televised remarks that negotiations were ongoing for Turkey to provide technical help to run the Kabul airport after the withdrawal of its troops, adding that there was a request that Ankara do so.

“We had this all planned out. Preparations to pull our troops [from Afghanistan] had been going on for some time. … The evacuation of Turkish soldiers may be completed in 24 to 36 hours,” Kalın said.

Kalın also claimed that the Taliban, who swept back to power in Afghanistan 20 years after they were ousted in a US invasion, wouldn’t be capable of securing the airport on its own and “probably” would request Turkey’s help in that regard since they wouldn’t want it to be non-operational.

Kalın’s remarks come a day after Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid again rejected the proposal of Turkey, which had been responsible for securing the Kabul airport under its NATO deployment, to leave troops at the airport, saying they would secure it by themselves once the evacuation of foreign forces was completed.

Two Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, on Wednesday told Reuters that the Taliban had asked Turkey for technical help to run the Kabul airport after the departure of foreign forces while insisting that Ankara’s military also fully withdraw by the end-August deadline.

The conditional request by the Taliban leaves the Turkish government with a difficult decision over whether to accept a hazardous job, one of the officials stated.

Referring to the increasing number of Afghan nationals attempting to enter Turkey through Iran after the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, Kalın underlined that diplomatic contacts to prevent a further inflow of refugees were ongoing.

According to Turkish media reports, between 500 and 1,000 Afghans are estimated to have arrived in Turkey, which hosts some 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees, each day since early July.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been under intense political pressure at home not to accept migrants that might come from Afghanistan in response to the fundamentalist Islamist group’s rise, formerly stated that Turkey was now home to roughly 5 million migrants of various statuses and could not accept any more.

“We cannot handle an additional burden of migration originating from Syria or Afghanistan,” the president said.

Ankara is building a wall along its eastern border to Iran to keep out Afghans trying to use the route to enter Europe.

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