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Turkey and The Withdrawal Process of USA from Afghanistan

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Due to its geostrategic location, Afghanistan has been invaded throughout history and has become a theatre of war for great powers. In the last 20 years Afghanistan have witnessed the occupation of the United States of America (USA). As it is known; The “Endless Freedom” operation was carried out by the American-led Coalition Forces against the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, which is regarded as responsible for the most comprehensive and effective terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, and the Taliban administration in Afghanistan, which is alleged to be in cooperation with Al-Qaeda.

The United States and the North Atlantic Alliance Organization (NATO), which came together within the concept of the global fight against terrorism and received the support of the international community, had started the country’s “transition to democracy” process by toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan with the support of NATO in a short time. However, in the past 20 years, neither the transition to democracy in Afghanistan nor the existence of groups that the USA defines as terrorists and the Taliban have been eradicated. On the other hand, the Washington administration decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, which it described as a failed state, until September 11, 2021, and this situation has set a new agenda.

While the Washington administration’s contact with the Taliban officials in the pre-withdrawal period and approaching to the Taliban as the decisive actor in the transition period led to serious discussions; Maintaining the existence and power of the Taliban throughout the occupation was another subject of criticism. With these discussions, while the US President Joe Biden and his team are withdrawing from Afghanistan; The proposal of Turkey to assume the control and responsibility of Kabul Airport has become the most significant issue on the Ankara-Washington line.

Considering that it would be useful to analyse the US decision to withdraw before making assessments about the presence of Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan and the continuation of this situation within the framework of the new concept, it can be stated that three main dynamics were effective in this decision of the White House administration. These are;

  1. Internal dynamics of the USA,
  2. Internal dynamics in Afghanistan geopolitics,
  3. Global and regional dynamics.

First of all, when we look at the internal dynamics of the USA, it is seen that the American presence in Afghanistan has become questionable both in the eyes of the decision makers and the public. The US Army, which suffered losses due to both its economic costs and its weaknesses in the land war, started to put decision makers in difficult situation in the eyes of the public. On the one hand, there were serious criticisms in domestic politics that the projection targeted in 20 years could not be realized. On the other hand, the question “If the USA has achieved its goals, why is it still being a security actor thousands of kilometres away?” has been raised.

The effect of the dynamics in Afghanistan on the withdrawal decision was as influential as the US national public opinion. The people of Afghanistan, who have been occupied throughout history and therefore accustomed to occupations, are quite a warrior community. When the mountainous and rugged nature of the area is added to this situation, the occupation of the region becomes both difficult and costly. The lands of the country, which were occupied by the British and the Soviet Union, respectively, before the American occupation, became a graveyard for both great powers. Although the USA carried out the occupation in a more advantageous way compared to the previous states due to technological benefits, it could not achieve full dominance in the field during the 20-year period and has suffered serious losses. In addition, it is observed that the number of Afghans who look to the Taliban sympathetically has increased with the effect of this occupation in the Afghan society.

Regional and global dynamics are actually effective within the scope of hegemonic struggle. For this reason, the state holding Afghanistan, which is described as the roof of Asia can control both global power contenders, Russia and China and regional actors such as Iran and Pakistan. This situation, which is shown at the beginning of the strategic reasons for the American occupation, may have had an adverse effect on the withdrawal decision of the USA today. Therefore, the withdrawal can also be evaluated within the scope of the strategy of destabilizing China’s backyard and the Belt-Road Project routes, which are challenging the American hegemony.

As a result, while the US withdrew after an unsuccessful invasion, offering Turkey the responsibility of Kabul Airport was a development that would put Turkey-US relations, which had gone through quite difficult times, into a positive atmosphere again. On the other hand, for Turkey, it brings along a process that contains risks in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, it is seen that Ankara also has this idea. In this context, Turkish decision makers approached the US proposal positively while they also clearly listed their terms. Demanding political, financial and logistical support, Turkey offered its proposal to stay with Pakistan and Hungary in the region after the withdrawal.

While all these developments were taking place, Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen declared that Turkey is also a part of NATO and that Turkish soldiers should withdraw from Afghanistan within the framework of the Doha Agreement signed between the USA and Taliban on February 29, 2020.

Despite the reactions and concerns, the Washington administration, aware of the fact that Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan, where it has strong historical, cultural and ethnic ties, is not defined as an invader like other NATO elements, and suggested that Turkish soldiers be in the country as the most rational choice. In this context, the fact that no group engaged in serious conflict with Turkish Armed Forces during their 20-year NATO tenure and that the Uzbeks as well as the Turkmen groups in the north do no not perceive the Turkish soldiers as foreigners has led other ethnic groups take a close stance towards Turkey which inline has strengthened Ankara’s role in geopolitics of Afghanistan. In addition, the respectable relations between Turkey and Pakistan, which is one of the most influential states in the region, is another positive fact. Furthermore, the absence of problematic relations with Moscow and Tehran strengthens Ankara’s hand.

Turkish decision makers, who are aware of their advantages in the field and in the region, plan to strengthen their hand in terms of intelligence and financial by including Hungary and Pakistan in the process as well as counting the risks. The involvement of Hungary, which is a member of the European Union (EU) and one of the closest states to Turkey in the Union, will create a security situation in the context of illegal international migration, which is the first of the biggest security threats perceived by Europe. It will also enable the EU to fulfil its financial support and obligations.

Pakistan has the strongest intelligence in the region. In addition, Islamabad’s relations with Taliban are not to be underestimated. In this context, the groups in the north of the country via Turkey and the Taliban through Pakistan can be controlled and a painless transition period can be achieved in Afghanistan.

It is clear that the presence of Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan, which is the most risky and problematic geographical area of emerging Asia, will contribute to the country and the region in the context of peace and prosperity. However, this situation also opens the door to a very risky situation for Ankara. For this reason, Turkey should not move as a part of NATO, it should move in Afghanistan as a friendly and brotherly state. In fact, Turkey’s approach is shaped by this sensitivity. Finally, it should be noted that, if Turkish soldiers are not found in Afghanistan, the powers of another state will be deployed. This situation brings to question to our mind that “How good would it be for the future of friendly and brotherly country Afghanistan?”

Dr. Kadir Ertaç ÇELİK
ANKASAM ABD-Güvenlik Danışmanı