By Ayaz Gul
The Taliban warned Tuesday that if Turkey extends its military presence in Afghanistan the Islamist group will view Turkish troops as “occupiers” and wage “jihad” against them.
The warning came amid fresh battlefield moves that critics say show the Taliban are planning a military takeover of Afghanistan in defiance of their peace pledges, raising the prospects of a full-blown civil war.
The United States has asked Turkey to secure Kabul’s airport after all American and NATO allied troops withdraw from the country by the end of next month.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday without elaborating that he had agreed with Washington on the “scope” of how to secure and manage the airport.
The Taliban condemned the deal as “reprehensible” and demanded Turkey review its decision.
“We consider stay of foreign forces in our homeland by any country under whatever pretext as occupation,” the group said in a media release. “The extension of occupation will arouse emotions of resentment and hostility inside our country towards Turkish officials and will damage bilateral ties.”
The security and smooth running of the Hamid Karzai international airport in the Afghan capital is crucial for preserving diplomatic missions and foreign organizations operating out of Kabul, where a bomb explosion Tuesday killed at least four people. Hostilities elsewhere in Afghanistan also have escalated to record levels.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Monday evening that Turkey agreed to some points with U.S. counterparts on running the airport. He said work towards a deal continues.
“If the airport does not operate, the countries will have to withdraw their diplomatic missions there,” Akar said.
Hundreds of American troops are expected to stay in the Afghan capital, guarding the sprawling U.S. embassy compound there.
Taliban forces have dramatically extended their territorial control across Afghanistan by overrunning scores of districts without any resistance since U.S. troops formally started withdrawing from the country in early May.
In most cases, government forces either retreated to safety or surrendered to the advancing insurgents.
The battlefield gains have enabled the Taliban to effectively encircle major Afghan cities, including provincial capitals.
In Washington, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Monday also voiced concern that the Taliban are planning to militarily take control of the country.
“It is clear from what they are doing that they have governance designs certainly of a national scale. It is clear from what they are doing that they believe there is a military solution to the end of this conflict,” Kirby told reporters.
“We continue to believe that the most sustainable and the most responsible end and solution to this war is a political one, one through negotiated diplomacy,” Kirby stressed.
Afghan authorities have vowed to defend and keep the Taliban from major cities, saying security forces have killed hundreds of insurgents in recent days.
Kabul has also protested and criticized regional countries for stepping up their diplomatic engagements with the Taliban in pursuit of a peaceful settlement to the war.
“The Taliban delegation is traveling to the regional countries at a time when its brutal attacks have killed more than 3,500 people, displaced more than 200,000 of our compatriots, disrupted public order and life, and economic activities in tens of districts,” ministry said.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan after emerging victorious in the civil war of the 1990s and introduced harsh Islamic laws to govern the conflict-torn country before they were ousted by the U.S.-led foreign invasion in late 2001.
The Islamist movement has since been waging a violent insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Washington negotiated and signed a troop withdrawal deal with the Taliban in February 2020 in return for security assurances and pledges the insurgents would negotiate a peace arrangement with Afghan rivals for a sustainable peace in the country.
However, the slow-moving U.S.-brokered intra-Afghan negotiations, which started in Qatar last September, have failed to produce a peace deal and remain deadlocked.