ANKARA, Aug 27 (Reuters) – Turkey has not made a final decision on a Taliban request for support to run the Kabul airport after foreign forces withdraw over security concerns and uncertainty in Afghanistan, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, adding talks were still underway.
Officials told Reuters this week that the Taliban had asked Turkey for technical help to run the airport but demanded that Ankara’s military pull out by an August 31 deadline.
The military began evacuations on Wednesday. On Thursday, at least one Islamic State suicide bomber killed 85 people including 13 US soldiers outside the gates of Kabul airport.
Erdogan said calm should be restored in Kabul before making a decision on the airport, adding there was a risk of getting “sucked in” to something that would be hard to explain given uncertainty around the possible mission.
“The Taliban have made a request regarding the operation of the Kabul airport. They say, ‘We’ll ensure security and you can operate it’. But we have not made a decision yet because there is always a possibility of death and such things there,” Erdogan told a news conference in Istanbul before leaving for a visit to Bosnia.
Erdogan’s comments come as US forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee Taliban rule braced for more attacks while racing to complete evacuations before an Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
NATO member Turkey had hundreds of troops in Afghanistan as part of the alliance’s mission and had been responsible for the security of the airport for the past six years. Ankara has so far evacuated at least 350 soldiers and more than 1,400 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover this month.
Turkey has praised what it described as moderate statements by the Taliban since they captured Kabul on August 15. Erdogan on Friday repeated that Ankara will continue holding talks with the Islamist group and would evaluate ties once a new government is formed.
Erdogan, who previously criticised the Taliban as they swept through the country en route to Kabul, said Turkey was aiming to complete evacuations and troop withdrawals as fast as possible.