Afghanistan, Turkish soldiers at Kabul airport

Turkey begins to evacuate its troops from Afghanistan

Turkey hopes to get its troops out of Afghanistan in 36 hours. The Taliban have asked Ankara for help to operate the airport.

Turkey has started to evacuate its troops from Afghanistan after assessing the current situation following the fall of the Kabul government and after the Taliban flatly refused to extend the August 31 deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces, as confirmed late yesterday in a statement by the Turkish National Defence Ministry.

“The Turkish Armed Forces return to their homeland with the pride of having successfully fulfilled the task entrusted to them,” added the ministerial statement. Since 2002, some 1,000 Turkish soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan under the command of NATO and within the framework of the United Nations mission in the country, carrying out non-combat tasks of reconstruction, training and assistance to the population.

The Turkish army has also been in charge of the security of the Kabul airport, a task that has also been assumed by troops from the United States and other countries since evacuations began amid the chaos after the capture of the capital by the Taliban. A total of 1,129 Turkish nationals have been evacuated to date on Turkish Air Force planes.

Ibrahim Kalın, spokesman for the Turkish president, explained during a television interview that the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Afghanistan could be completed in just 36 hours. “We have to act in accordance with the realities on the ground,” explained the spokesman for the Turkish Presidency, who nonetheless noted that Turkish civilian experts could help operate the Kabul airport after the international withdrawal.

Taliban ask Turkey for help to operate Kabul airport

His words came after hours before, Turkish officials confirmed to press that the Taliban had requested technical assistance from Turkey to be able to operate the capital’s international airport after the departure of foreign forces, although the Islamist group insists that Ankara should also withdraw its troops completely before the August 31 deadline.

“The Taliban have made a request for technical support to operate the Kabul airport,” a senior Turkish official explained to the press on condition of anonymity, adding however that the Taliban demand for the complete withdrawal of Turkish troops made it difficult to assume that task.

“Ensuring the safety of the workers (sent by Turkey to operate the airport) without the Turkish Armed Forces is a dangerous mission,” the official explained. For now, talks between the Turkish government and the Taliban on the issue are continuing, and according to some sources Ankara could make a decision by August 31.

The day before, Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid assured that the group wants to maintain good relations with Ankara due to the historical and cultural ties between Turkey and Afghanistan. “We want good relations with Turkey, with the Turkish government and with the Turkish Muslim nation. As for the Turkish forces stationed in Afghanistan, we do not need them in our country, and once the evacuation is complete we will secure the airport on our own,” Mujahid said.

Turkey’s troops in Afghanistan have been in charge of security at Kabul airport as part of the NATO deployment, while the West is still trying to recover from the shock after the Taliban took over the country in less than two weeks after 20 years of international presence. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in parliament that Western countries had underestimated the power of the Taliban, and acknowledged that there must be negotiations with them to maintain the achievements of the last 20 years because “now they are a reality in Afghanistan.”