ISTANBUL: Just a day before his first face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will be the ‘only reliable’ country left to stabilise Afghanistan after the United States pulls out its troops from the landlocked country, indicating Washington can rely on its Nato ally.
Erdogan also said he would discuss the issue in his meeting with Biden on the margins of a Nato summit in Brussels on Monday, after strained relations between their two countries.
“America is preparing to leave Afghanistan soon and from the moment they leave, the only reliable country to maintain the process over there is obviously Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters at Istanbul airport on Sunday before leaving for Brussels.
Turkey has reportedly said it is prepared to keep troops in Afghanistan to protect Kabul airport, the main exit route for western diplomats and humanitarian workers, as the US is in the final stages of completing a military drawdown, alongside Nato forces, by September 11 — 20 years after they invaded Afghanistan.
Erdogan said Turkish officials had informed their American counterparts about Ankara’s plans in Afghanistan after the US troop pullout, without providing details. They are “pleased and happy. We will be able to discuss the Afghanistan process with them,” he said.
A Turkish official confirmed that Western powers were willing to let Turkey stay and protect the Kabul airport. But, the official added, “why should Turkey try hard if nobody is going to give support? These issues need to be clarified.”
On Saturday, the Taliban said that foreign forces should hold “no hope” of keeping a military presence in Afghanistan after the US and Nato withdraw troops, warning the security of embassies and airports would be the responsibility of Afghans.
‘Without ifs and buts’
As relations between the US and Turkey have been tense in recent years, Erdogan said he wanted to turn a new page with the Biden administration. “There were rumours here and there. We need to leave them behind and discuss what we can do,” the president said.
“We expect to see an approach from the US without ifs and buts.”
For the two NATO allies, the list of disagreements is unusually long from US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria to Turkey’s purchase of a Russian weapons system. And in April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was genocide. Previous US presidents had avoided using the term out of concern that it would complicate ties with Turkey, which is fiercely proud of its Ottoman history and insists that those killed in the early 20th century were victims of civil war and unrest.
Referring to the term of genocide used by Biden, President Erdogan said: “This has seriously saddened us… Turkey is not an ordinary country. It’s an ally of America.”
Erdogan, in power for 18 years as prime minister and then president, also has one-on-one meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lined up during the Monday’s summit.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2021