Turkey courts Biden with offer to protect Kabul airport

Passengers outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.   | Photo Credit: SAJJAD HUSSAIN

Turkey is offering to protect Kabul’s strategic airport after the U.S. forces leave, in what experts view as a high-risk bid to improve Ankara’s strained ties with Washington.

Keeping the air hub safe from advancing Taliban forces became a major issue after U.S. President Joe Biden called an end to Washington’s 20-year involvement by ordering all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of next month.

Hamid Karzai International Airport offers the safest route for Embassy staff and humanitarian aid to reach the war-torn country. Its fall could leave Afghanistan largely cut off from the world.

Ankara’s surprise proposal gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a chance to build a rapport with Mr. Biden during their first meeting at a NATO summit in June.

The offer meets two of the Turkish leader’s objectives: warm chilly ties with Western allies and avert an influx of refugees by keeping aid routes open.

“Turkey has a vested interest in Afghanistan’s stability,” said Magdalena Kirchner, Afghanistan director at German foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Turkish officials play down the diplomatic aspects of the mission and stress the importance of relieving the suffering in Afghanistan.

“Our objective is to make sure Afghanistan is not closed to the outside world, that it is not isolated,” a Turkish diplomatic source said.

The United Nations this month said 18 million people — or half the Afghan population — needed assistance, while half of all children under the age of five suffered from acute malnutrition.

U.S. sanctions

While Washington still views Turkey as an important ally in a volatile part of the world, relations have been bedevilled by disputes, including Ankara’s acquisition of a Russian missile defence system.

U.S. sanctioned Ankara for the purchase last year.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 5:59:31 AM |

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