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U.S. Officials To Visit Ankara To Discuss Turkish Plan To Secure Kabul Airport

The security of Kabul's international airport is considered to be crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of Afghanistan once Western forces withdraw. (file photo)

U.S. government officials are set to discuss the future of Kabul's international airport in Ankara this week after Turkey committed to providing security for the strategic site following the planned pullout of international forces from Afghanistan later this year.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar is expected on June 24 to discuss the situation with a U.S. delegation that will include officials from the U.S. Defense and State Departments.

The Ankara talks come as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is set to arrive in Washington on June 24 for a visit that the White House has said will “"highlight the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues."

The Taliban have wrested control of dozens of districts from government forces in recent weeks, raising concerns that the Western-backed government in Kabul and the battered Afghan security forces may collapse after the planned U.S.-led withdrawal of allied troops by September 11.

The security of Hamid Karzai International Airport is considered to be crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of Afghanistan once Western forces withdraw from the war-torn country.

NATO member Turkey has offered to guard and run the facility, and has been holding talks with Washington on logistic and financial support for the mission.

Speaking to reporters in parliament on June 23, Akar said that details of the plan to secure the Kabul airport were still being discussed, but he insisted that Ankara will not send additional troops to Afghanistan as part of that mission.

Turkey had a military presence in Afghanistan working under NATO's Resolute Support Mission to guard the airport for six years, according to the Turkish minister.

"At the moment, we already have a presence there and it is out of the question for us to send any soldiers there in any way now," he said, referring to some 500 Turkish troops taking part in the NATO mission.

Last week, U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan welcomed Turkey's "clear commitment" to take a lead role in securing Kabul's airport.

Meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a "detailed discussion" about the fate of the airport, Sullivan told reporters on June 17.

After the NATO summit, Erdogan told a press conference his country would need "diplomatic, logistic, and financial support" from the United States to protect the facility.

In Washington, Biden is scheduled to meet with Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on June 25.

The White House statement on June 20 said the United States continues to support the peace process and encourages all Afghan parties" to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict."

The already-slowing intra-Afghan peace talks launched in Qatar in September 2020 largely broke off when Biden announced the pullout of U.S. forces later this year following a May 1 deadline the previous U.S. administration had agreed with the Taliban.

The White House also said that the United States is committed to supporting the Afghan people by providing diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian assistance, and reiterated a pledge to remain engaged with Afghan government "to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups who pose a threat to the U.S. homeland."

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, bringing to nearly $3.9 billion the amount of U.S. humanitarian aid sent there since 2002.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Anadolu
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