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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Turkey in meetings with Qatar, G7 to discuss Kabul airport as Biden warns of ‘high threats’


Earlier reports said the Taliban requested technical assistance from Qatar to operate Kabul’s airport.

Officials from Qatar, Turkey, and the G7 are reportedly meeting on Monday to discuss operations at Kabul’s airport post the 31 August withdrawal deadline, two sources familiar with the discussions told the New York Times [NYT].

The meeting comes at a critical point as US and foreign troops continue to pull out amid a looming deadline, with the Taliban threatening consequences if President Joe Biden extends the withdrawal operation.

It also comes amid major security threats at the Hamid Karzai Airport, which has already faced several attacks by the IS-affiliated Khorasan group, which the Taliban considers an enemy.

On Thursday, more than 100 Afghan civilians and US troops were killed in multiple explosions that rocked the facility.

The Taliban have since asked Turkey—which has been running the airport’s security for the past six years—for technical help to run the airport post deadline. A Taliban official also said the group is set to request similar technical assistance from Qatar to help operate the airport.

Two officials told Reuters on Friday that Turkey will not help run Kabul’s airport after the foreign troop withdrawal unless the Taliban agree to a Turkish security presence.

“The operation can be done by Turkey technically … but our demand is that security should be ensured by Turkey too, through an extensive security team made up of former soldiers, former police, or a fully private firm,” said a senior Turkish official following the attacks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We have not been keen on Turkey operating the airport in an atmosphere where security is provided by the Taliban, and the attacks yesterday showed this was correct,” noted the official.

Another Turkish official said security measures announced by the Taliban were not enough to ensure the safety of a potential Turkish presence on the ground in Afghanistan.

Turkey has managed to evacuate at least 350 of its soldiers and up to 1,400 people from Afghanistan since the Taliban captured Kabul on 15 August.

On Friday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said officials were in talks with allies and the Taliban to enable non-military flights to resume as soon as US forces depart the airport.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to discuss developments in Afghanistan “and the importance of maintaining operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport” following the troop withdrawal “to enable humanitarian aid and essential travel to continue”.

In another call, Blinken spoke to Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu over “continuing joint efforts to ensure a safe and orderly evacuation from Afghanistan”.

Running out of time amid high risks

The resurgence of the IS-Khorasan group, which has launched attacks in Afghanistan since 2014, has placed Afghans and military personnel at a much higher risk than ever.

On Thursday, the terrorist group launched multiple suicide bombings at the Kabul airport, killing at least 175 people, most of whom were civilians. Thirteen US service members were also killed in the attacks.

Graphic videos that surfaced online showed dozens of bodies scattered at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Exclusive: Taliban warns US deadline extension would mark ‘second violation’

Qatar immediately condemned the attacks, reiterating its position in “rejecting violence and terrorism, regardless of the motives and reasons”.

On Saturday evening, President Biden also warned of “highly likely” terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in the next 24-to-36 hours.

Chaos has erupted in Afghanistan since President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all American and NATO forces by the end of this month.

The announcement triggered crossfire between the Taliban and US-trained Afghan forces as foreign troops departed the country. By the second week of August, the Taliban had entered Kabul, with former President Ashraf Ghani fleeing to the UAE.

The speed at which the events in Afghanistan developed led to rushed evacuations, with the US and its allies conducting one of the biggest air evacuations in history, moving more than 100,000 people out of the country

So far, Qatar has evacuated more than 40,000 people from Afghanistan with the number expected to increase over the next few days and weeks. Kabul airport’s military wing is expected to shut down on Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with Doha News, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said that the Gulf state is working on “a wider plan, a political solution to resume the operations in the civilian side of the airport”.

“I’m not sure at that point of time whether we’re going to call it evacuation or not, but what I know for sure is that people who are in need to leave the country will receive all the aid that they need to do so. But those who don’t need to, we shouldn’t feed their insecurities, their fear, and push them actually out of fear to evacuate the country,” she said.

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