Taliban representatives have warned Turkey against keeping troops in Afghanistan after the departure of the U.S.-led forces following Ankara's announcement that it was considering maintaining a contingent to protect the Kabul airport.
The Taliban has captured around one-third of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts since the start of the U.S.-led forces' withdrawal on May 1, raising fears that the government in Kabul could collapse. The situation prompted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on July 13 to visit the north to see the security situation on the ground.
The Turkish NATO contingent in Afghanistan has been providing security and essential airfield services for Kabul International Airport, which has huge strategic value as the only emergency gateway out of Afghanistan for officials and diplomats in emergency situations.
Ankara has said talks are ongoing with the Afghan government and Washington to keep its troops at Kabul airport to ensure the international gateway keeps functioning after the departure of U.S. troops.
"The decision of Turkish leadership is ill-advised, a violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and against our national interests," the Taliban said in a statement on July 13, adding that if Turkey extends its "occupation," the militant group is prepared to fight over the issue.
U.S. President Joe Biden in April said U.S. forces will leave by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States that prompted the American invasion of Afghanistan. Last week, however, Biden said the date of the withdrawal had been brought forward to the end of August.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has called for a fair burden-sharing of the task given that "uninterrupted, safe operation of Kabul International Airport is indispensable for the continued presence of diplomatic missions in Afghanistan."
A new air defense system was activated and tested at Kabul airport over the past several days.
Meanwhile, Ghani traveled to Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of the northern province of Balkh, where Taliban militants have taken control of a number of areas over the past two months, to assess the situation on the ground.
The Taliban's gains have been particularly strong in northern Afghan areas bordering Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, reportedly prompting an exceptional visit by Taliban representatives to Ashgabat at Turkmenistan's request on July 10. Mazar-e Sharif is located some 100 kilometers south of the Uzbek border.
This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.