By SPS Pannu
Turkey is ready to provide its technical aviation experts to help the Taliban in operating the Kabul airport for civilian flights once the US and allied troops evacuate on August 31, a top Turkish official has said.
Turkey’s presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on the country’s NTV news channel on Wednesday that “negotiations continue on Turkish civilian experts providing technical support at the airport”.
Germany has also been holding discussions with Turkey on whether it could lead a “civilian only” airlift of people to be evacuated from Kabul after US forces leave, according to leading UK daily The Guardian.
The alternative option was brought to the table as US President Joe Biden had given no categorical assurance that he would extend the August 31 deadline for pulling out US troops from Kabul airport. Now that the G7 meeting has failed to persuade Biden to extend the deadline, the German initiative is expected to gather further momentum.
The Taliban, which had staunchly opposed any move to extend the August 31 deadline for removal of US troops, has said it is not averse to civilian flights resuming from Kabul to enable any foreign nationals that get left behind to leave the country.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas had earlier said: “We are talking with the United States, Turkey and other partners with the aim of facilitating a civil operation of Kabul airport to enable the evacuation of people beyond August 31. We will also have to continue to talk with the Taliban about this issue, and that’s what we are doing.”
Turkey has already started withdrawing its troops and Kalin said it would take 36 hours to complete the evacuation.
“After our troops withdraw, we could continue this operational task at the airport there. If it is agreed in the terms and an agreement is reached in this direction,” he told NTV.
However, at the same time, Turkey is neither willing to recognise the Taliban government at this point nor is it willing to take any Afghan refugees.
While efforts to evacuate foreign nationals have been stepped up at Kabul airport, the chaos created by thousands of desperate people wanting to fly out and the problems that foreigners are facing in reaching the airport have made the task of evacuating all foreign nationals and at-risk Afghans extremely difficult.
The resumption of civil flights at Kabul after August 31 would give the much needed window to fly out those who miss the last date.
The fresh threat of a terrorist attack at the Kabul airport by the Islamic State militants has slowed down the evacuations. The USA, UK and Australia warned their citizens on Thursday to stay away from the Kabul airport as there was a high threat of a terrorist attack in the area.
Meanwhile, British defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Wednesday that Afghans who want to flee to the UK may be better off “trying to get to the border” than awaiting RAF evacuation.
He also indicated that there were few places left on British rescue flights, which have evacuated more than 11,000 people from Kabul since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan less than two weeks ago.
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