Erdogan calls for US support for Turkey to protect Kabul airport

Turkey could run Afghan capital’s airport if US meets conditions on logistics and financing, President Erdogan says.

Erdogan, centre, says Turkish forces could run and guard Kabul airport after other foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, but the Taliban has warned Turkey against it [Turkish Presidential Press Service handout via AFP]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the United States to meet “conditions” including financial, logistical and diplomatic support, so that Turkey can run and guard Kabul airport after other foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

Turkey has offered to deploy troops to the airport after NATO fully withdraws and has been in talks with the US for several weeks.

Erdogan and US President Joe Biden discussed the issue in their first face-to-face meeting on the margins of a NATO summit in June.

The Taliban, which has gained territory as US-led foreign forces pull out, has warned Turkey against it.

Erdogan, speaking in a televised address on Tuesday from Northern Cyprus, acknowledged that the Taliban had reservations but said Turkey would nonetheless carry out the mission as long as the US, a NATO partner, meets three specific Turkish requirements.

The conditions are US support in diplomatic relations, the handover of logistical facilities, and financial and administrative backing.

“If these conditions could be met, we are thinking of taking over the management of Kabul airport,” he said.

“There will be serious financial and administrative difficulties … (the United States) will give the necessary support to Turkey in this respect as well,” Erdogan added, after attending morning prayers during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday.

Turkey hopes the airport mission will help soothe US ties that are strained on several fronts including its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defences.

“The Taliban, who held some talks with America, should be able to talk about these issues with Turkey more comfortably,” Erdogan said, adding that he believes an agreement can be reached.

Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar said securing the operation of Kabul airport is vital as it is the only gateway for the international community.

“Turkey wants to keep it international because it is afraid of a scenario of being left behind once the international community is out of the country, and having a confrontation with the Taliban,” he said, speaking from Istanbul.

Serdar said that by taking such an active role as a peace-building country in Afghanistan, Turkey hopes to improve relations with the US and the European Union.

“Erdogan also said he would like to have direct talks with the Taliban regarding Kabul airport, so in that sense – if any time soon the direct talks start – then it wouldn’t be a surprise to the world,” Serdar added.

‘Reprehensible plan’

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001 and has fought for 20 years to expel foreign forces, topple the Western-backed government in Kabul and reimpose Islamic rule.

The Taliban, emboldened by the departure of foreign forces by a September target, called Turkey’s plan “reprehensible”.

Ankara and others have said the airport must stay open to preserve diplomatic missions there.

Erdogan said on Monday that the Taliban should “end the occupation”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies