Taliban largely seal off Kabul airport as airlift winds down

Taliban asked Turkey for support to run Kabul airport, Turkish officials say

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Ankara: Two Turkish officials told Reuters that after the withdrawal of foreign troops, the Taliban had asked Turkey to provide technical assistance to operate the Kabul Airport, but insisted that the Ankara army be fully withdrawn before the deadline at the end of August.

An official said that 20 years after being expelled from the US invasion, the Islamist Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, and its conditional demands made it difficult for Ankara to decide whether to accept a dangerous job.

The predominantly Muslim Turkey is part of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, and there are still hundreds of soldiers at the Kabul airport. Officials said they are ready to evacuate in a short time.

But the government of President Tayyip Erdogan has stated for months that it can stay at the airport if requested. After the Taliban seized control of the country, Turkey provided technical and security assistance at the airport.

“The Taliban have made a request for technical support in running Kabul airport,” a senior Turkish official said, adding however that the Taliban demand for all Turkish troops to leave would complicate any prospective mission.

“Ensuring the safety of workers without the Turkish Armed Forces is a risky job,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Talks with the Taliban on the issue were ongoing and, in the meantime, preparations for a troop withdrawal had been completed, he said.

It was unclear whether Turkey would agree to give technical assistance if its troops were not there to provide security.

Another Turkish official stated that the final decision will be made before the August 31 deadline, when foreign troops will leave the country and end their 20-year military intervention in Afghanistan.

Keeping the airport open after the transfer of control by foreign forces is essential not only for Afghanistan to maintain contact with the world, but also for maintaining aid supplies and operations.

“It s going to be a critical lifeline for the humanitarian action in Afghanistan,” Mary Ellen McGroarty, World Food Programme director in Afghanistan, said last week.

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