Turkey Scrambles to Salvage Its Influence in a Post-U.S. Afghanistan

Turkey Scrambles to Salvage Its Influence in a Post-U.S. Afghanistan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a military parade, in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 20, 2021 (Turkish Presidency pool photo via AP Images).

Like other foreign powers, Turkey was caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban’s recent blitz across the country, which has greatly complicated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans. While most NATO countries were happy to wash their hands of the conflict after a grueling 20-year counterinsurgency and nation-building effort, Erdogan was proposing that Turkey continue to provide security for Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. 

Erdogan had discussed this idea with U.S. President Joe Biden during their meeting on the margins of the NATO Summit last month, and negotiations with Washington were reportedly ongoing until last week, despite the Taliban’s fervent opposition to Erdogan’s plans. In a mid-July statement, the group condemned Turkey’s plans “in the strongest terms,” warning that its troops would be considered an “occupation” force and dealt with as “invaders” if it did not change course. 

Of course, with Afghanistan now under complete Taliban control, all of this is moot. Neither Washington nor Ankara expected Kabul to fall so quickly, but in a way, the Taliban’s dramatic victory has saved Erdogan from his own miscalculation. The insurgents were clearly much stronger than anyone had anticipated, with deep roots in all facets of Afghan society. Clearly, when the Taliban had threatened the Turks to stand down from their airport plans, they knew they would be able to make life very difficult for Erdogan if he didn’t oblige.

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