During Monday’s NATO summit in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance agreed to maintain funding for the operation of the Kabul airport, which is part of the coalition’s plans to keep embassies in Afghanistan after the withdrawal.
To secure the airport, the US and NATO want the Turkish troops that are currently guarding it to stay, although the Taliban rejects the idea of any foreign soldiers remaining after the pullout.
“NATO and allies are now working on how to ensure the continued operation of an international airport in Kabul. There were meetings also on the sidelines of the summit today. Turkey of course plays a key role in those efforts. We are working on exactly how to do it but there is a strong commitment from NATO and from NATO allies to ensure that we can operate an international airport,” Stoltenberg said.
On Sunday, before traveling to Brussels, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled that he was willing to keep troops in Afghanistan. “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,” he said, as quoted by AFP.
Both Erdogan and Stoltenberg appear to be ignoring a warning the Taliban issued about the plan on Saturday. “Every inch of Afghan soil, its airports, and security of foreign embassies and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of the Afghans, consequently no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence in our country,” the Taliban said in a statement.
If foreign troops are left behind, the Taliban said they would view it as a violation of the US-Taliban peace deal that paved the way for the withdrawal. “If anyone does make such a mistake, the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate shall view them as occupiers and shall take a stance against them,” the statement said.
Last week, US Central Command said the withdrawal process was over 50 percent complete. The command is not disclosing troop numbers, and the US is considering leaving a few hundred troops behind to guard its embassy.