Turkey, US in dialogue for post-withdrawal Afghanistan: NATO

Some NATO allies, including Turkey and the United States, are in an ongoing dialogue over the situation in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

Speaking ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, when asked about NATO’s decision to end its mission in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg stated that they will continue to support Afghans and that financial aid to Afghan security forces will continue.

Stating that they are working on the training of Afghan security forces abroad, Stoltenberg added: “We are also working on how critical infrastructures, including the airport, will be sustainable. NATO plans to provide support.”

“Some NATO countries, such as the United States and Turkey, are also in direct dialogue on how to make an international airport in Kabul sustainable. This is important for the continuation of diplomatic presence and assistance for both NATO allies and the entire international community,” he also said.

Commenting on a potential Turkish role in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday that Turkey is the only country that can be trusted to continue the process after the withdrawal.

The issue of Afghanistan is one of the main topics to be discussed at the NATO summit. Under the February 2020 deal secured with the Taliban under former President Donald Trump, all U.S. forces were to leave Afghanistan by May 1 but Biden in April postponed the pullout to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the al-Qaida attacks on the U.S. that prompted the U.S.-led invasion and ouster of the Taliban government that sheltered the group.

With violence raging, many U.S. lawmakers and current and former officials fear that the departure of the foreign forces and stalled peace talks are pushing Afghanistan into an all-out civil war that could return the Taliban to power. The Pentagon says the U.S. withdrawal is more than 50% complete. Turkey, with more than 500 soldiers still in Afghanistan training security forces, now has the largest foreign military contingent there.

Turkey’s potential role in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the planned U.S. pullout could serve as an area of cooperation. Turkey has offered to guard and run Kabul’s airport after NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The airport plan may offer a rare opportunity to build goodwill and trust and could help improve ties between Ankara and the West.

Turkish officials say they made the Kabul airport proposal at a NATO meeting in May when the U.S. and its partners agreed to a plan to withdraw their forces by Sept. 11 after 20 years of backing the Afghan government in a war against the Taliban.

“We intend to stay in Afghanistan depending on conditions. What are our conditions? Political, financial and logistical support. If these are met, we can remain at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said last week. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said that Turkey was discussing the security of the airport with allies, namely the U.S., but that no country could handle the mission without support.

Following statements from Ankara, the Pentagon said that Turkey and the U.S. held preliminary talks on the security of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of American and other NATO forces from Afghanistan. At the request of the U.S., Turkey also pledged to host a high-level international peace conference on Afghanistan in April, but the Taliban declined to attend, forcing Ankara to postpone it. Ankara also recently pointed to continuing efforts for the Afghanistan peace process in coordination with Washington.