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ANKARA: Turkey pledged on Monday to provide security cover at Kabul airport if a number of key conditions are met.
After weeks of uncertainty over whether Ankara would withdraw its troops from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the military would stay if its allies pledged to bring a some political, financial and logistical support.
Turkey’s decision to take responsibility for airport security has been the subject of intense discussion with Washington and was also discussed at the recent meeting of NATO Defense Ministers.
Several countries had considered closing their embassies in Afghanistan if the city’s airport was not secure.
Following last year’s February deal in Doha between the Taliban and the US government, the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan was due to be completed on May 1. But the deadline was later extended, a move that angered the group.
US soldiers are now expected to leave Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.
Akar said Turkey, which had around 500 troops in the country as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM), was now awaiting an Allied response to its demands.
“We aim to restore peace in Afghanistan. We have a historic brotherhood. We want to be able to stay in Afghanistan as long as the Afghan people want our help, ”he added.
Hamid Karzai International in Kabul is the country’s main airport and also serves as a large military base, but the Afghan authorities lack the capacity to provide full security at the site where air traffic control is carried out by military personnel NATO since 2002.
Airport security was important not only for military flights but also to support international organizations and NGOs distributing humanitarian aid.
Magdalena Kirchner, director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s office in Kabul, told Arab News that the complete withdrawal of foreign forces could theoretically increase the risk of retaliatory attacks against a Turkish residual force.
“But I think the highest risk would be the lack of essential catalysts currently provided by US forces in the event of a dramatic decline in the overall security situation or if the airport itself were to be attacked,” a- she declared.
Maintaining a presence at the airport was seen as crucial for continued international travel and support to reach the country and because handing over airfields and airports to Afghan authorities required more time, capacity and resources than expected, she added.
The much-anticipated Istanbul Afghan peace conference, which was due to take place in April, was postponed after the Taliban belatedly decided not to attend. The group expected the next conference to be short with an agenda that did not touch on decision-making on critical issues.
Regarding the preconditions for the continuation of the Turkish presence in Afghanistan, Kirchner noted that negotiations could revolve around increasing the amount of a 130 million dollar deal with NATO.
“Politically, maintaining at least one formal NATO umbrella would be an option preferred by Turkey to unilateral military engagement and finally, especially between the US and Turkey, logistical discussions on critical catalysts and force protection capabilities could continue, ”she said.
Last December, the Turkish parliament approved a motion to extend for 18 months the deployment of Turkish troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO support mission in the war-torn country. This year marks the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Afghanistan.