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Afghanistan: US military delegation to visit Turkey to discuss Kabul airport

US officials are expected to draft a plan on securing the facility with Turkish counterparts
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take position during a training programme at Turkish military camp Gazi in Kabul on 28 August 2010 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

A US military delegation will visit Ankara later this week to hold detailed consultations on a possible Turkish role to guard Kabul International Airport after the Nato withdrawal, a senior Turkish defence official said on Monday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart Joe Biden agreed last week that Turkey would take a leading role to secure the airport, but Ankara also requested financial, logistical and troop support from other allied countries.

The airport is key to the stability of the Afghan capital, as foreign missions, NGOs and aid groups rely on its services.

The US delegation will be in Ankara on Wednesday or Thursday to follow up Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s discussions with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin on the issue, the official added.

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Erdogan last week publicly floated the idea that Ankara could partner with Hungary and Pakistan to undertake the mission.

“It isn’t very clear who will join this mission. We have to wait and see to understand who is genuinely interested,” the senior official said.

“There are some [countries] who aren’t in Afghanistan that would like to take part, or there are others who are there but would like to stay after the withdrawal. We will have a better picture in four or five days.”

Two sources familiar with the issue said Hungary itself expressed a willingness to take part in the mission, floating the idea in a meeting between Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Miniser Viktor Orban on the sidelines of a Nato summit earlier this month.

Pakistan, which doesn't have troops in the country, also has a longstanding relationship with the Taliban, as a neighbouring country. 

No formal deal has been reached by Ankara and Nato over Turkey taking responsibility for Kabul airport's security.

However remarks by both Erdogan and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan indicated that the two countries were close to striking an agreement.

'There are some countries who aren’t in Afghanistan that would like to take part, or there are others who are there but would like to stay after the withdrawal'

- Senior Turkish defence official

“President Erdogan indicated he would need, as you said, certain forms of support to do that. And President Biden committed that that support would be forthcoming,” Sullivan said last week during a briefing. “President Erdogan expressed satisfaction with that, and the two of them tasked their teams just to work out the final details.”

A Nato communique promised to maintain the funding for the airport earlier this month, meeting one Turkish condition.

However, other than the extra forms of support sought by Turkey, Erdogan is also seeking concessions from the Biden administration in return, such as on the Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems Ankara purchased, which prompted US sanctions.

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