Turkey has continued with negotiations on securing and operating Afghanistan’s Kabul airport with both the United States as well as other countries, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated on Tuesday.
Speaking to journalists in Ankara, Akar said: “There are some issues on which we have agreed with (U.S. Defense Secretary Llloyd) Mr. Austin as part of the negotiations. Moreover, there are positive developments in NATO with Turkey’s initiatives.”
Akar stated that discussions with the technical delegation of the U.S. on the airport continue in a constructive manner.
Saying that the issue has multiple sides, Akar said: “There are other countries that want to help Afghanistan. We try to pursue the process with our Afghan brothers, NATO, the EU and the international community.”
He reiterated that Turkey has been in Afghanistan for 20 years and has been involved in consultancy efforts, reconstruction and maintenance while operating the airport for six years.
Akar stated that there is consensus among countries that the Hamid Karzai Airport must stay open and operational. He elaborated that in the contrary scenario, countries might withdraw their embassies in the face of a lack of safe communication and travel, leading to Afghanistan being an isolated state.
A delegation of U.S. State Department and Pentagon officials arrived in Ankara recently to discuss progress on efforts to keep Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul operational.
Both parties later agreed to continue discussions, a Turkish National Defense Ministry statement said.
"We certainly welcome Turkey's constructive role when it comes to the withdrawal, and the broader safety and security situation in Afghanistan," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
He further welcomed Ankara's "support for the diplomatic process" in Afghanistan.
On the other side, Akar further underlined that Turkey is closely following the Taliban’s activities as well as the possibility of a new refugee wave toward Turkey.
Meanwhile, the Taliban on the same day warned Turkey against extending its presence in the country when U.S.-led forces leave the country, insisting the decision was "reprehensible."
"The decision ... is ill-advised, a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity and against our national interests," the group said in a statement, days after Turkey promised to provide troops to protect Kabul airport when foreign forces leave next month.
The Taliban said if Turkey's existence in the country continues, then the group is prepared to fight.
Turkey, whose forces in Afghanistan have always consisted of noncombatant troops, has offered to guard the airport as questions remain on how security will be assured along major transport routes and at the airport, which is the main gateway to the capital Kabul. The security of the airport is crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of Afghanistan as Western forces pull out.
The airport is in a strategic location close to the Afghan presidential palace and foreign diplomatic missions in Kabul and is the only place to evacuate diplomats in emergency situations.
A new air defense system was activated and tested at Kabul airport over the past two days.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has called for a fair burden-sharing of the task given that "uninterrupted, safe operation of the airport is indispensable for the continued presence of diplomatic missions in Afghanistan."
At the end of a series of meetings with NATO leaders on the sidelines of the alliance summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that Turkey was seeking Pakistani and Hungarian involvement in the mission in Afghanistan following the departure of the U.S.-led NATO force.
However, the Taliban have opposed Ankara's proposal, saying that Turkey should also withdraw its troops in line with the 2020 deal for the pullout.
By Sept. 11 at the latest, around 2,300-3,500 remaining U.S. troops and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. There are concerns that the Afghan government and its security forces may be ill-prepared for the withdrawal and that the country may descend into chaos.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America. In recent weeks Taliban fighters have overrun several districts in southern and northern Afghanistan, convincing government security forces to surrender and seizing their weapons and military vehicles.