ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will not send additional troops to Afghanistan as part of a plan to run and secure Kabul’s airport following the U.S. and NATO pullout from the country, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday.
Turkey has offered to guard and run Hamid Karzai airport after NATO’s withdrawal and has been holding talks with the United States on logistic and financial support for the mission.
The mission could be a potential area of cooperation between Ankara and its allies amid strained ties, as the security of the airport is crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of Afghanistan after the withdrawal. Ankara has said it cannot carry out the mission without support.
Speaking to reporters in parliament, Akar said Turkey had a military presence in Afghanistan working under NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to guard the airport for six years, adding that details of the plan were still being discussed.
“At the moment, we already have a presence there and it is out of the question for us to send any soldiers there in any way now,” Akar said, referring to some 500 Turkish troops taking part in the NATO mission, and added talks were still underway.
“When these efforts are concluded in the coming period, the necessary measures will be taken and it will become a plan,” he said, adding the issue would be discussed with a U.S. delegation in Ankara on Thursday.
Ties between Turkey and its NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, ranging from Ankara’s purchase of Russian defences to policy differences in Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean, and over human rights.
Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed in a meeting at last week’s NATO summit that Turkey would take a lead role in securing Kabul airport after the NATO withdrawal.
A Taliban spokesman said this month Turkey should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under the 2020 deal for the pullout of U.S. forces, but Washington and Ankara have said the plans will press on.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones)