Turkey Offers to Run Kabul Airport After NATO’s Afghan Withdrawal

ANKARA (Reuters) -

Turkey has offered to guard and run Kabul’s airport after the United States and other NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, but U.S. officials say Ankara is imposing conditions that need to be resolved as their leaders prepare to meet next week.

Turkish officials say Ankara made the proposal at a NATO meeting in May when the United States and its partners agreed on a plan to withdraw troops by Sept. 11 after 20 years of war trying to defeat Taliban forces.

Turkish and U.S. officials have discussed possible requirements for the mission, some of which Washington has agreed to address, one Turkish official said.

“Following the United States’ decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, Turkey has made an offer to ensure the security of Kabul airport. In this framework, there are talks underway with NATO and the United States,” the Turkish official said.

A Turkish role securing the airport for international flights could help improve ties between Ankara and the West, sorely strained by Turkey’s purchase of Russian defence systems and disputes with European countries over drilling rights in east Mediterranean waters.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday that Ankara’s offer was contingent on backup from those allies.

“We intend to stay in Afghanistan depending on conditions. What are our conditions? Political, financial and logistical support. If these are met, we can remain at Hamid Karzai International Airport,” his ministry quoted Akar as saying.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they welcomed the Turkish proposal but that Ankara was asking for too many U.S. “enablers” for the mission.

The officials also cited some U.S. concern about Turkey’s reliability, given their other disagreements, but said Washington would find a way to make it work.