Taliban oppose Turkish troops staying to defend Kabul airport and issue ‘jihad’ threats

The Taliban warned Tuesday (July 13) that if Turkey extends its military presence in Afghanistan, the Islamist group will view Turkish forces as an “occupation force” and wage “jihad” against them.

The warning comes as the Taliban is taking new actions on the battlefield that critics say show it is plotting a military takeover of Afghanistan despite promises of peace, raising fears of an all-out civil war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has asked Turkey to secure Kabul airport after all U.S. and NATO-allied forces leave Afghanistan by the end of next month.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, without specifying details, that he and Washington had reached a consensus on the “scope” of how to secure and manage the airport.

The Taliban called the agreement “reprehensible” and asked Turkey to reconsider its decision.

“As long as there are foreign troops remaining on our soil, we consider it an occupation, regardless of the pretext of any country,” said a press release issued by the Taliban group. “The continuation of the occupation will stir up resentment and hostility within our country toward Turkish officials and will damage bilateral relations.”

The security and operation of Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital is key to diplomatic missions and foreign organizations remaining in Kabul to maintain operations. On Tuesday, a bomb killed at least four people in Kabul. Conflict elsewhere in Afghanistan has also escalated to record levels.

Turkish Defense Minister Akar told reporters after a cabinet meeting Monday evening that Turkey and the U.S. agreed on certain points regarding the continued management of the airport. He said efforts to reach an agreement are continuing.

Akar said, “If the airport is no longer operational, countries will have to withdraw their diplomatic missions that are there.”

Several hundred U.S. troops are expected to remain in the Afghan capital to protect the sprawling U.S. embassy compound there.

Since U.S. troops officially began withdrawing from Afghanistan in early May, Taliban forces have rapidly expanded their territory throughout the country, capturing dozens of districts without meeting any resistance.

In most cases, government forces have either retreated to avoid danger or surrendered to the approaching insurgency.

The Taliban’s battlefield gains have given them a virtual encirclement of Afghanistan’s major cities, including provincial capitals.

In Washington, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby also expressed concern Monday about the Taliban plotting a military takeover of the country.

Speaking to reporters, Kirby said, “What’s clear from what they’re doing is that they have a governing purpose, obviously on a national scale. What’s clear from what they’re doing is that they believe that there is a military solution to end this conflict.”

“We continue to believe that the most sustainable and responsible way to end and defuse this war is political, is through diplomatic negotiations,” Kirby stressed.

Afghan authorities have vowed to keep the Taliban from invading major cities. Afghan officials say security forces have killed several hundred insurgents in recent days.

Kabul has also protested and criticized the increased diplomatic engagement of countries in the region with the Taliban in an effort to peacefully defuse the war.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry said, “Taliban delegations are traveling to countries in the region while their brutal attacks have killed more than 3,500 people, displaced more than 200,000 of their compatriots and disrupted public order and livelihoods as well as economic activities in dozens of districts.”

In the 1990s, the Taliban won a civil war, took control of war-torn Afghanistan, and governed the country under harsh Islamic law. in late 2001, U.S.-led international forces stormed Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban regime.

This Islamist movement then launched a violent insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

In February 2020, Washington negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in exchange for security guarantees and a promise that the insurgents would negotiate a peace package with their Afghan counterparts to achieve a sustainable peace.

U.S.-mediated intra-Afghan negotiations began in Qatar last September, however, they have been slow to reach a peace deal and remain deadlocked.