23.06.2021 Author: Vladimir Danilov

Has the US Found a Solution to the Problem of Withdrawal from Afghanistan?

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The past two months have been very difficult for Washington in terms of finding a solution to the accelerated withdrawal of regular US and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

Washington did not succeed in implementing its initial plans to possibly deploy them in post-Soviet Central Asia, despite numerous attempts to sucker Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan into agreeing to this by hook or by crook, as well as during certain contacts with Russian representatives.

Perhaps so far the only “success” scored by the United States in this area, albeit a small one, was having Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, influenced by Washington, sign an agreement on military cooperation on June 18 following energetic insistence on this during the latest US-Kazakhstani “contacts”. The document was signed in the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan, by Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and Kazakhstan’s Defense Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev to “pave the way for mutual support between the armed forces in various fields,” states the Afghanistan National Security Council. The agreement calls for joint exercises, cooperation in intelligence gathering, military medicine, work on upgrading equipment, logistical support, combat training, and in-depth military cooperation between the two countries. This essentially means helping Afghanistan “at the hands of Kazakhstan”, but with obvious support provided by Washington.

Given the particular importance the United States places on maintaining control over the Kabul airport as a springboard for future use in the region, during the last meeting between the presidents of the United States and Turkey, Joe Biden and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they agreed that the Turkish military would play a leading role in ensuring security for this air gateway in Afghanistan after NATO completes its mission in the country. In principle, this kind of decision by Washington was forecasted earlier on the pages of NEO, as was that following this the future role played by Ankara in relations with the United States, and in the region as a whole, would be reinforced. That same role for Ankara under these conditions has recently become the subject of particularly energetic debate in Turkey, and this was reflected in recent publications in one of its most influential newspapers, Türkiye, focused on representatives of right-wing views in Turkey. The newspaper emphasized that in conditions that are favorable for Turkey Afghanistan should be considered not only as a South Asian country, but also as an important state that lies within the sphere of Turkish interests in the context of “South Turkestan”. This course of events, according to the publication, could allow Ankara “to gain a foothold in the region, at least as illustrated how it happened with Azerbaijan after the second war with Nagorno-Karabakh, to provide the Western world with access to Islamic geographical areas but only through Turkey, as well as starting to actively penetrate South Turkestan using the West as a cover”.

The British publication Rai Al Youm expressed no doubts that by doing this Erdogan clearly expects to continue his expansionism in pursuit of the dream of reviving the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the agreement with Ankara regarding the Kabul airport, the United States is working on several backup options in case the one involving Turkey fails.

The justification behind these plans was confirmed by the recent statement made by Afghanistan’s Taliban movement (banned in Russia), which indicated its objections to the presence of the Turkish military at the Kabul airport.  The Taliban is demanding that the Turks also withdraw from the country in accordance with the Doha Agreement signed last year on the withdrawal of all coalition forces, seeing that Turkey is a NATO member state.

After that, Turkish President Erdogan was forced to urgently reform his position on the Kabul airport, and on further keeping a military presence in Afghanistan, while not only demanding additional diplomatic, logistical, and financial support from Washington, but also involving Pakistan and Hungary in the equation besides Turkey.

According to the reaction already expressed by the American side, “Ankara has put forward complex conditions, and for now they will only be taken into consideration.” It cannot be ruled out that NATO’s decision to involve Turkey in protecting the airport in Kabul may be revised. In addition, the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Administration has still not decided whether to transfer responsibility for running the airport to Turkish armed forces after foreign troops withdraw.

And now, if Turkey decides to stay in Afghanistan anyway, it will be forced to run up against interethnic conflicts – and attempts by various political and ethnic forces to pull Ankara over to their sides – and engage in military clashes; it will end up there as a warring country. Erdogan is clearly not satisfied with this prospect since, apart from his own ambitions, he does not possess the necessary political, diplomatic, economic, and military resources. For him, Afghanistan is not turning into the “key to Asia”, but rather “the gateway to a problem area” that has become a springboard for radical groups and drug smuggling. In addition, Russia, Pakistan, India, and China also have their own strategic interests in Afghanistan – they are also preparing for the US withdrawal from that country – and Ankara will also have to put up opposition to these countries, which is clearly beyond Ankara’s power.

As far as the deployment of the coalition troops withdrawn from Afghanistan is concerned, on June 14 representatives from NATO command turned to the Qatari authorities with the relevant request, and asked that a base be set up in the country to help train Afghan special forces as part of obligations to be borne after the foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

A diplomatic source in Kabul confirmed to Reuters that “there is discussion about transferring Afghani special forces to Qatar for special training for a period from four to six weeks.” “Authorities in Qatar must decide for themselves whether they agree to make their territory available to NATO as a training ground,” said a second source from the security services in Washington.

So the Afghanistan problem remains one that is still unresolved by Washington …

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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