Turkey’s military has begun evacuating from Afghanistan, the defence ministry says, after the Taliban had asked Ankara for technical help to run Kabul airport, but insisted it withdraws its military by the end of August.
The Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday that the Taliban insisted that Ankara withdraw its military fully by the end-August deadline, even though President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government had said for months it could keep a presence at Kabul airport if requested after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
Turkey was part of a NATO mission in Afghanistan and still has hundreds of troops at Kabul airport. It has also been involved in the evacuation efforts during the last two weeks.
“After various contacts and evaluating the current situation and conditions, the evacuation of the elements of the [Turkish Armed Forces] has begun,” the ministry said.
“The Turkish Armed forces is returning to our homeland’s soil with the pride of having accomplished the task it was entrusted with,” it added.
Talks with the Taliban on the issue of providing technical support at the airport were ongoing, a Turkish official told Reuters. It was unclear whether Turkey would agree to give technical assistance if its troops were not there to provide security.
Keeping the airport open after foreign forces hand over control is vital not just for Afghanistan to stay connected to the world but also to maintain aid supplies and operations.
Turkey has praised what it described as moderate statements by the Taliban since they captured Kabul on August 15, and has said it is open to engaging with them once a new government is formed.
“We are welcoming the messages from the leaders of the Taliban with cautious optimism for now,” Erdogan said in the eastern province of Bitlis on Wednesday.
“Not the Taliban’s words but its activities, actions and the steps it will take will determine how the process ahead of us in Afghanistan will be shaped,” he added.
The Turkish defence ministry also left open the option of playing a security role in Kabul down the line.
“Turkey will continue to be with the Afghan people as long as they want,” it said, noting the troops had been stationed at the airport for the past six years.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday the group sought good ties with Turkey.
“We want good relations with Turkey, the Turkish government and the Muslim people of the Turkish nation,” he said.