The Kabul Subcontract

August 2, 2021

Whether Turkish troops would stay at Kabul airport beyond withdrawal has become another controversial topic of our foreign and security policy. In my last post I asked the following questions:

•          Would Turkish troops fight the Taliban in case of an assault on the city?

•          Would Turkish troops remain in Kabul to ensure the orderly operation of the airport?

•          Would they remain there to secure the safe and timely evacuation of diplomatic missions remaining in Kabul in case of a battle for the capital’s control?

I asked them because nobody yet knows clearly what their mission would be. All we know is that this is a subcontract but what are the project details? What would Turkish troops be responsible for? What does “securing the airport” mean? Is this a combat or non-combat mission? What would be the rules of engagement?

In the meantime, Turkey faces another refugee challenge. On July 29, the Voice of America reported that “officials and observers believe the numbers of Afghan refugees entering Turkey are estimated at between 500 and two thousand daily…” Reportedly, most of these are young men bringing to mind the question whether the subcontract is just about airport or more.

The following three paragraphs from State Department and NATO websites are a summary of US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan.

  • From August 2003, NATO led the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). At its height, ISAF included more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner nations. ISAF forces fought alongside the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as the international community worked to improve ANDSF capabilities.
  • ISAF officially ended on December 31, 2014, with the ANDSF taking over full responsibility for security in Afghanistan. On January 1, 2015, when the United States and NATO formally ended their combat role in Afghanistan and transitioned to a new mission. On January 1, 2015, NATO launched the Resolute Support Mission (RSM), a non-combat mission focused on providing training, advice, and assistance support to the ANDSF. In addition to the United States, 38 NATO Ally and partner nations contributed troops to RSM and helping Afghan forces become more effective, professional, and sustainable.
  • Two weeks later, on January 1, 2015, the US launched Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) to conduct two complementary missions: 1) counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan, and their affiliates in Afghanistan; and 2) training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces through the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission.

Thus, although the US and NATO “formally ended” their combat role in Afghanistan with the RSM, US forces continued their combat role under OFS.

Rules of engagement are “military directives meant to describe the circumstances under which ground, naval, and air forces will enter into and continue combat with opposing forces. Formally, rules of engagement refer to the orders issued by a competent military authority that delineate when, where, how, and against whom military force may be used, and they have implications for what actions soldiers may take on their own authority and what directives may be issued by a commanding officer.”[i]

On June 22, 2012, Syrian fire downed a Turkish F-4 fighter jet. At the time the announcement by the Turkish government of a new set of “rules of engagement” sounded like a pretty harsh retaliatory measure and added to Turkish leadership’s warlike rhetoric.

On November 24, 2015, Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 bomber for having violated Turkish airspace for 17 seconds. Initially the Turkish government declared that this was the dictate of our rules of engagement. But subsequently it said that had the Su-24 bomber been identified as Russian aircraft, Turkish air defense command would have acted differently.

In Afghanistan US’ and NATO’s rules of engagement were upgraded more than once. A NATO spokesman once said that ISAF forces will not be deployed with one arm tied behind their backs. “They can engage to defend their mission and to defend themselves. If that means they see a threat looming in the hills, they do not have to wait to be attacked and to take casualties. They can take action to defend themselves — including, if necessary, preemptively,” he added.[ii]

In brief, rules of engagement matter. It is inconceivable that the Kabul airport subcontractor’s  rules of engagement would not have the right to self-defense in case of attack. Thus, it would not be possible to present their mission as a purely non-combat one.

While Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) remains silent on the subject, the main opposition, Republican People’s Party, objecting to putting Turkish troops in harm’s way, has put forward three conditions for a Kabul airport subcontract. These are,

  • A joint invitation by the Afghan government and the Taliban,
  • A UN Security Council resolution approving the project, and
  • A new authorization by the Turkish Parliament.

So, can one assume that the main opposition already knows the answers to the questions I listed at the beginning? I doubt it. But, covering all angles by taking “yes, but”,  “no, but” positions is now part of our political culture.

The Kabul airport project will put Turkish troops in harm’s way. The signing of such a subcontract will be another self-inflicted blow to Turkey’s declining global standing.

If the JDP wishes to substantiate its claim to having created “a New Turkey, a new global power”, then it should assume the role of the general contractor and award the project to one of the many countries which must have been lining up to win the JDP government’s favor.

Turkey’s real problem is, as the latest forest fires strikingly show, we have a government but we are not being governed.




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 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 the 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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