Thanks to the departure of Western troops, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is advancing his pawns in Afghanistan. The Turkish president is currently negotiating with the Biden administration his proposal to ensure the security of Kabul airport, following the repatriation of the last American forces present in the country. Started in early May, the withdrawal of 07 NATO soldiers , of which 2500 Americans , is now almost completed and must officially end on 20 August.
In this context, the protection of the Hamid Karzai international airport is essential for all humanitarian aid workers and embassy staff still in the country. “This is the only secure way to enter and leave Afghanistan. The land routes are dangerous and largely in the hands of the Taliban,” notes Steven Cook, Middle East specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) at Washington. In recent months, they have launched a vast offensive and now claim to control more than 85% of the territory as well as almost all the borders.
Rabibochage with Biden “We are aware that the Kabul airport must remain open and operational. If this is not the case, the embassies will withdraw, making Afghanistan an isolated state, “Hulusi Akar, the Turkish Minister of Defense, said at the beginning of July, saying he wanted to contribute” to the security, peace and well-being of the Afghan people “. But behind the noble intentions displayed, the Turkish president’s proposal is also a good way to show off to the new tenant of the White House. The relationship between the two men not having, it is true, not started under the best auspices.
From 2019, then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden did not have hesitated to call the Turkish leader an “autocrat”, adding that he was going to “pay the price”. In addition, Washington still blames Ankara for its acquisition of a Russian air defense system S – 400 in 2019. Result: The United States has excluded Turkey from the production program of the stealth aircraft F – 31 and last December prohibited the allocation of any arms export permit to the SSB, the Turkish government agency responsible for the procurement of military equipment.
“Erdogan has in mind that relations with Biden are going to be more complicated than with Trump. He therefore seeks to give him guarantees from the outset”, underlines Didier Billion, deputy director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), and specialist in Turkey. While the new US president has said he wants to maintain a diplomatic presence in Kabul, it goes without saying that Turkey’s offer removes a thorn in his side.
At the same time, Turkey also offers itself a lever of influence over Westerners. “By controlling this airport, Erdogan would establish himself as a key player in the region. But he is not doing this for free and will be able to remind Europe or the United States if the latter allow themselves to criticize him in the future. in another file “, slips Didier Billion. An exercise in which the Turkish president is a past master, as recalled by his threat last year to open the doors of Europe to “millions” of migrants , despite the agreement reached in 2000 with Brussels.
Risky bet The protection of Kabul airport should, however, have nothing to do with ‘a walk in the park for Turkey. In mid-July, the Taliban directly threatened Ankara with reprisals. “We consider the maintenance of foreign forces in our homeland, by any country whatsoever and whatever the pretext, as occupation and the invaders will be treated as such,” they said in a statement, adding that if “the Turkish authorities do not reconsider their decision to continue occupying our country”, the Taliban “will resist them, as they have resisted 18 years of “foreign occupation.
At this stage, Turkey does not plan to deploy any additional troops beyond its 1362 soldiers already there. “The best way to protect Turkish forces in the long term would be to find an agreement with the Taliban,” says Steven Cook. If the Turkish leaders want to believe in their chance to reach such a compromise, it is difficult to imagine that the force present there is long enough to hold back the fundamentalists in the event of failure of the negotiations.
Unless the Turkish government has other plans in mind. According to certain information , Ankara would consider using the services of some 2000 Syrian mercenaries, as has already been done in Libya , in Syria or in Nagorno-Karabakh. “The interest for Erdogan would be to limit the number of deaths among Turkish soldiers, if there were to be clashes. However, that would not prevent them”, slice Didier Billion. Which in Turkey would undoubtedly call into question the merits of the operation.