Together with Qatar, Turkey continues to work on the operation of Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is important for all Afghan people, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Tuesday.
Speaking to Turkish Parliament's Planning and Budget Committee, Akar stated that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) has undertaken important duties in Afghanistan and that, in accordance with the United Nations and NATO resolutions, approximately 20,000 personnel have been working in Afghanistan since 2002 within the body of the TSK.
"After the U.S. and NATO's decision to leave Afghanistan, in the last period that developed faster than expected and the conditions became more difficult, the evacuation decision was taken and the process was successfully completed in less than 48 hours as planned," he said.
"As Turkey, we will continue to closely follow the developments in the region from now on," Akar added.
Within 10 days in August, the Taliban had announced its control of most of Afghanistan in parallel with the United States withdrawal from the country after 20 years of military presence. Shortly after the withdrawal of forces, technical teams from Turkey and Qatar started working on getting the airport back to operational standards.
After the Taliban seized control of the country, Turkey offered technical and security assistance at the airport. Keeping the airport open after foreign forces handed over control is vital not just for Afghanistan to stay connected to the world but to maintain aid supplies and operations.
Turkey has been working with Qatar to reopen the airport in the Afghan capital for international travel. However, repairs are needed before commercial flights can resume.
The Turkish government has taken a pragmatic approach to the recent events in Afghanistan. Underlining that new realities have emerged in Afghanistan, Ankara said it would move forward accordingly while keeping communication with all relevant actors open.
The Taliban say they want international recognition but warn that weakening their government will affect security and spark an even bigger exodus of migrants from the country. Taliban officials previously noted that they want Turkey to provide aid and support to the Afghan people. They called on Turkey to be the first country to formally recognize the new administration in Afghanistan.
NATO member Turkey maintained its embassy in Afghanistan after Western countries withdrew following the Taliban takeover and has urged those countries to step up engagement. At the same time, it said it will only work fully with the Taliban if they form a more inclusive administration.
Regarding the tensions in Eastern Mediterranean, Akar also said that Turkey always responded to Greece following the diplomatic norms on the issue "despite all kinds of unjust and unlawful actions of Greece."
The minister said Turkey would continue to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean.
"We are determined and capable of protecting our rights and interests as well as those of the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus)," he stated.
Tensions are once again rising between Turkey, Greek and Greek Cypriot administrations over maritime borders and drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean after several months of relative calm.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by European Union members Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the TRNC. Both sides cite a range of decades-old treaties and international agreements to support their conflicting territorial claims.
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations. Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and has opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.
Turkish security forces have eliminated 32,901 terrorists in Turkey, Iraq, and northern Syria since July 24, 2015, the defense minister also told Parliament.
Akar said 2,426 terrorists have been eliminated this year so far.
"I would like to express that all operations carried out for the security of our country and nation are carried out in accordance with international law, respecting the rights and laws of Iraq and Syria, within the scope of the right of self-defense, and only targeting terrorist elements in the region," he said.
Since 2016, Turkey has launched a trio of successful anti-terror operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019).
The PKK terrorist group often hides out in northern Iraq, just across Turkey's southern border, to plot terrorist attacks in Turkey. The Turkish military regularly conducts cross-border operations in northern Iraq. Turkey has long been stressing that it will not tolerate terrorist threats posed against its national security and has called on Iraqi officials to take the necessary steps to eliminate the terrorist group. Ankara previously noted that if the expected steps were not taken, it would not shy away from targeting terrorist threats.
Stating that they have expressed at every level that "PKK equals YPG" to their foreign counterparts, especially the U.S., Akar said that they insistently demand that all support being given to terrorists be cut off.
"There is no hesitation that the PKK is equal to YPG. In fact, the terrorist ringleaders themselves openly admitted in the press that the so-called commanders in Syria had previously taken part in the PKK ranks. Also, in the hearings held in the U.S. Senate, some experts state that the U.S. relationship with the YPG should be terminated. As a result, we are determined to save our noble nation from the scourge of terrorism that has plagued it for 40 years. Our only target is terrorists. Our operations will continue with determination until the last terrorist is eliminated."
The PKK is a designated terrorist organization in the U.S., Turkey and the European Union, and Washington's support for its Syrian affiliate has been a major strain on bilateral relations with Ankara.
The U.S. primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria in its fight against the Daesh terrorist group. On the other hand, Turkey strongly opposed the YPG's presence in northern Syria. Ankara has long objected to the U.S. support for the YPG, a group that poses a threat to Turkey and that terrorizes local people, destroying their homes and forcing them to flee.
Under the pretext of fighting Daesh, the U.S. has provided military training and given truckloads of military support to the YPG, despite its NATO ally's security concerns. Underlining that one cannot support one terrorist group to defeat another, Turkey conducted its own counterterrorism operations, over the course of which it has managed to remove a significant number of terrorists from the region.