No decision yet on Taliban request for Turkish support at Kabul airport: Erdogan

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Turkey has not made a final decision on a Taliban request for support to run the Kabul airport after foreign forces withdraw over security concerns and uncertainty there, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, adding talks were still underway.

Officials told Reuters this week that the Taliban had asked Turkey for technical help to run the airport but demanded that Ankara’s military pull out by an Aug. 31 deadline. The military began evacuations on Wednesday.

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“The Taliban have made a request regarding the operation of the Kabul airport. They say, ‘We’ll ensure security and you can operate it’. But we have not made a decision yet because there is always a possibility of death and such things there,” Erdogan told a news conference before departing for a visit to Bosnia.

President Erdogan said Turkey has held its first talks with the Taliban in Kabul, adding that the talks were held at a military section of the Kabul airport where the Turkish embassy is temporarily stationed.

“We have held our first talks with the Taliban, which lasted 3.5 hours,” Erdogan told reporters. “If necessary, we will have the opportunity to hold such talks again.”

Responding to domestic criticism over Turkey’s engagement with the insurgent group, Erdogan said Ankara had “no luxury” to stand idly by in the volatile region.

“You cannot know what their expectations are or what our expectations are without talking. What’s diplomacy, my friend? This is diplomacy,” Erdogan said.

Turkey had been planning to help secure and run Kabul’s strategic airport, but on Wednesday, it started pulling troops out of Afghanistan – an apparent sign of Ankara’s abandoning this goal.

Erdogan said the Taliban now wanted to oversee security at the airport, while offering Ankara the option of running its logistics.

But he said the suicide bombs that killed at least 95 people, including 13 US troops, outside the airport during in the last days of urgent evacuation effort Thursday showed the importance of knowing the details of how the air hub will be secured.

“They said: ‘We will ensure the security, you operate (the airport’. We have not made any decision on this issue yet,” Erdogan said.

“We will make a decision once calm prevails.”

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