Turkey will not help run Kabul airport after NATO’s withdrawal unless the Taliban agree to a Turkish security presence, two officials told Reuters after deadly attacks outside the airport highlighted the perils of any such mission.
The Taliban have asked Turkey for technical help to run the airport after next Tuesday’s deadline for all foreign military forces to pull out of Afghanistan, an ultimatum they say applies equally to Turkish troops.
Turkey, which is part of the NATO mission, has been responsible for security at the airport for the last six years.
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.
On Thursday, just days before the military withdrawal deadline and as countries were still racing to evacuate civilians, at least one Islamic State suicide bomber killed 85 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers, outside the airport gates.
One senior Turkish official said the attack raised doubts about the Taliban’s ability to secure the airport or to keep any Turkish operational staff safe.
“The operation can be done by Turkey technically … but our demand is that security should be ensured by Turkey too, through an extensive security team made up of former soldiers, former police, or a fully private firm,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We have not been keen on Turkey operating the airport in an atmosphere where security is provided by the Taliban, and the attacks yesterday showed this was correct.”
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey had not made a final decision because of the high risks involved.
He told reporters that Turkey was “not in a rush to start (commercial) flights or any such things” and that Ankara would decide “when there is finally calm there (in Kabul)”.
The senior official said talks with the Taliban had been “negatively impacted” by the airport attacks and that future international flights from Kabul were at risk of being closed off. He did not say when the next contacts would take place.
Another Turkish official said security measures announced by the Taliban, including manning watchtowers around the airport, were not enough to ensure the safety of a potential Turkish mission.
“It’s a very serious job and we need to think of security and operation together,” the official said. “Our approach is that even if security is not provided by the Turkish Armed Forces, it should be done by Turkey.”
At least 350 Turkish soldiers and some 1,400 other people have been evacuated by Turkey from Afghanistan since the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15.
Turkey has praised what it described as moderate statements by the Taliban since their takeover, but said their actions will determine Ankara’s position.