Turkey drops Kabul airport plans but will assist if Taliban ask -sources

An aerial view of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
An aerial view of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, previously known as Kabul International Airport, in Afghanistan, February 11, 2016. AfghanistanLM REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

ANKARA, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Turkey has dropped plans to take over Kabul airport after NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan but is ready to provide support if the Taliban request it, two Turkish sources said on Monday amid turmoil following the militant group's victory in Afghanistan.

Turkey, which has 600 troops in Afghanistan, had offered to keep them in Kabul to guard and operate the airport after other NATO members pulled out, and was discussing details with Washington and the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The plans were thrown into disarray over the past two days after Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the Taliban swept in to Kabul and thousands of Afghans, also hoping to escape, thronged the airport on Monday. read more

The Taliban had also warned Turkey against keeping soldiers in Afghanistan to run the airport - warnings which Ankara had dismissed before the Islamist militants surged towards the capital. read more

"At the point reached, there is total chaos at Kabul airport. Order has been completely disrupted," said one of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity. "At this stage, the process of Turkish soldiers taking up control of the airport has automatically been dropped," the person added.

"However, in the event that the Taliban asks for technical support, Turkey can provide security and technical support at the airport."

The move to scrap the plans comes after the rapid conquest of Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents following U.S. President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. forces after 20 years of war that cost billions of dollars.

Opposition parties in Turkey had criticised the government's plans, saying such a mission would put Turkish soldiers at risk and calling for their immediate withdrawal amid the uptick in violence.

Until the Taliban's entry into Kabul, Turkish officials had said Ankara remained committed to the plans and that it would wait to see how events unfolded in Kabul before making a final decision. read more

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has called for calm in Afghanistan and criticised the Taliban's advance, said last week he could meet with the Taliban as part of efforts to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

Ankara had viewed the airport mission as a potential area of cooperation that could help heal frayed ties with Washington and other NATO allies, which have been strained over several issues.

Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara Editing by Dominic Evans and Matthew Lewis

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