ISTANBUL — Turkey’s defense minister said Friday that negotiations over his country’s proposal to operate and secure the key international airport in Afghanistan are taking place.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey was discussing the plan with several countries. “There must be some political decisions at the United Nations and NATO, and an agreement must be reached with the Afghan government,” he said, adding that Turkey was seeking political, financial and logistical support from various countries.
He emphasized that a final decision had not yet been reached, but negotiations with the United States were continuing and the plan would be executed after the Turkish president’s approval.
Earlier this summer, Turkey proposed to operate and provide security for Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in the aftermath of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed it with U.S. President Joe Biden at their first face-to-face meeting during the NATO summit in mid-June.
An agreement on the protection of the airport has become increasingly urgent as the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 U.S. troops and 76,000 allied NATO soldiers nears a conclusion. On Friday all U.S. troops left Bagram Airfield after 20 years. The airfield had been the epicenter of the countrywide military operation to defeat the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
NATO-member Turkey has over 500 troops in Afghanistan and already plays a significant role at the airport. Akar has previously said Turkey has no plans to deploy more troops.
“The airport must be open and operate. If the airport doesn’t work, embassies will pull out, and in such a situation, Afghanistan would become an isolated state,” the defense minister said.
Without a separate agreement on the airport the current operations would have to be maintained under the Resolute Support Mission, which is the current U.S.-led military mission. Until there is an agreement it is not clear that the U.S. and NATO can declare their military mission in Afghanistan over.
“We have stated our intent. We said we can stay if these conditions are realized,” Akar said.
The minister’s comments were carried by official Anadolu news agency.
Associated Press Writer Kathy Gannon contributed from Kabul, Afghanistan