Afghanistan Withdrawal

June 10, 2021

An open-ended US/NATO military engagement in Afghanistan was never an option. The aim was achieving optimal conditions for withdrawal. On April 14, President Biden announced that US troops as well as forces deployed by America’s NATO Allies and operational partners will be out of Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The plan he said, had long been “in together, out together.” Have optimal conditions for withdrawal been achieved? No. But it is “out together”, regardless.

The first to leave was Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Canberra will close its embassy in Kabul on May 28. He said that an “increasingly uncertain security environment” made it too unsafe for embassy staff to be based in Afghanistan.

On May 27, the New York Times reported the following: “Since May 1, at least 26 outposts and bases in just four provinces in Afghanistan have surrendered, according to village elders and government officials. With morale diving as American troops leave, and the Taliban seizing on each surrender as a propaganda victory, each collapse feeds the next.”

On June 4, a Washington Post editorial titled “The U.S. cannot abandon the Afghans who risked their lives alongside U.S. troopssaid: “All the debate about the costs and consequences of a ‘forever war’ must not obscure the profound obligation of the United States to protect Afghan interpreters and their families from being slaughtered by the Taliban once the troops are gone. Many of them risked their lives to serve the United States.”

On June 7, the US Central Command announced that it has completed greater than 50% of the entire retrograde process. In brief, as the withdrawal continues desperation in areas under government control is growing.

Also on June 7, in a surprising announcement, Turkish Defense Minister Akar told daily Hurriyet  that Turkey is prepared to keep its troops in Afghanistan if political, financial, and logistic support were to be provided by the allies. Calling Afghan people “brothers,” he said: “The goal is to ensure peace in Afghanistan. We have a historical brotherhood. We want to be able to stay in Afghanistan as long as the Afghan people want us to help them.

And the day after his announcement, Reuters reported that a Turkish role securing the Kabul Airport for international flights could help improve ties between Ankara and the West, sorely strained by Turkey’s purchase of Russian defense systems and disputes with European countries over drilling rights in eastern Mediterranean.

Actually, the airport Reuters referred to as the “Kabul Airport” no longer carries that name. In 2014, it was given a new name. In accordance with the decision of the National Assembly of Afghanistan and the Cabinet of President Ashraf Ghani it was named “Hamid Karzai International Airport”. The decision must have reflected the profound gratitude of the people of Afghanistan to former President Karzai for his distinguished service to his country; a service enabling Western allies to leave the country with a sense of accomplishment!

Changing names of streets, schools, universities, squares is a Middle Eastern political practice troubling satellite navigation systems because it makes updating impossible.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party government also changed the name of Istanbul’s main airport. The after building a new airport in Istanbul it closed down the old “Ataturk Airport” but called the new one “Istanbul Airport”.

Diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Turkey  were established in 1921 soon after Afghanistan became independent. Thus, Afghanistan become the second country recognizing the Turkish Grand National Assembly government of Ataturk who at the time was leading our War of Independence. In 1928, King Amanullah Han became the first of head of state to visit Turkey and Ataturk’s reforms inspired him and his successors.

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs website says, “… Turkey supported Afghanistan’s modernization efforts and played a crucial role in establishment of modern state structures and public institutions in the fields of administration, military, culture, education, and health. 212 Turkish teachers, doctors, officers, and other experts were sent to Afghanistan between 1932 and 1960. The relations of  friendship and cooperation between the two countries continued until the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR…”

And after 9/11 Turkey made a substantial contribution to Western efforts to help Afghanistan achieve stability. Unfortunately for the people of Afghanistan those endeavors have ended in failure. During those two decades, Afghan rulers have been unable to put their leadership quarrels behind and promote good governance. They have failed dismally in fighting corruption.

Turkey may continue to participate “no more, no less” in whatever its Western partners would do to help the people of Afghanistan after  the completion of their withdrawal. However, volunteering to maintain an independent military  presence there under whatever pretext is wrong. The exception is the security of our embassy. We joined our allies saying, “in together” and we should leave saying “out together”. And, we have heard enough of this “brotherhood” talk. We were once brothers with the people of Syria too and we know the rest.

If the declared intention to stay in Kabul aims at repairing our relationship with the Washington, it is the wrong choice. It would put Turkish troops in harm’s way for no good reason because the Taliban’s victory is assured. Besides, the place to restore Turkey’s relations with our traditional allies is not Kabul. It is Ankara.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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