Security and Assistance to the End: Azerbaijan and Turkey’s Role in the Evacuation of Afghanistan
Author: Daniel Lehmann
Aug 18, 2021
Amidst the unfolding chaos in Kabul as the Taliban seized the capital and former President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, international cooperation to evacuate embassy staffs and at-risk Afghan nationals has been crucial. The horrifying scenes at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) demonstrate how rapidly the situation has deteriorated. Throughout the past several days of evacuations, Azerbaijan’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) peacekeeping unit attached to a larger Turkish battalion has assisted in attempting to stabilize the frantic situationat the airport. Baku has also proven to be an important logistical hub for planes assisting in the evacuation.
Prior to the events of August 15-16, Turkey offered to take over security at HKIA after the departure of other international forces. While the Taliban previously criticized Turkey’s proposition, Turkey’s plan did not deviate until the extremist group seized the capital. However, on August 16, following the collapse of the Afghan government, Ankara accepted that its forces would not be responsible for the security of HKIA under Taliban rule. Ankara reportedly remains committed to offering technical support for the airport, if needed, to prevent Kabul from being cut off from the rest of the world.
The fate of the airport remains unknown, and the current situation there also remains fraught with peril as thousands of diplomats, foreign journalists, and Afghans fearful of the Taliban clamor to leave. Turkey and Azerbaijan have worked jointly as part of the ISAF to protect and secure critical infrastructure. Turkey currently has 600 soldiers on the ground working toward that goal, and Azerbaijan has provided a detachment of 120 soldiers to the ISAF mission. These troops are now stationed at the airport to support the several thousand U.S. soldiers attempting to instill order.
The Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan reported on August 17 that the Azerbaijani peacekeeping contingent, in cooperation with the Turkish forces present, were still safely carrying out their mission to protect the international airport in Kabul. Additionally, the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Azerbaijan spoke with each other a day earlier to discuss their forces’ activities in Afghanistan. Turkey is currently coordinating with all sides of the conflict to support an orderly international exit from the country while Azerbaijan’s troops continue to perform their role even after the Azerbaijan Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that there were no Azerbaijani civilians left in Afghanistan, only diplomatic and military personnel.
Turkey’s interest in maintaining its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and the joint Turkish-Azerbaijani military cooperation demonstrates the continued trilateral relationship among these three countries. While Azerbaijan and Turkey supported the United States’ fight against the Taliban for 20 years, it seems that Turkey has expressed willingness to potentially build a new relationship with its longtime foe. It is unclear if Turkish and Azerbaijani troops will leave Afghanistan after the completion of the evacuation or if they will remain and work within the confines of the new reality in the country.
The rapid evacuation of thousands of people requires international cooperation, which has been demonstrated in the past several days. Over a dozen countries are in the process of evacuating their staffs and Afghans who aided their diplomatic missions through Kabul’s single international airport. This has created a logistical nightmare as planes vie for limited space. German and Czech planes flying to Afghanistan have landed in Baku to refuel and wait for HKIA to be clear for landing. The Azerbaijani support for the European evacuation from an American controlled airport in Kabul demonstrates the necessary international cooperation for the evacuation operation in Afghanistan.
The United States did not enter Afghanistan by itself, nor, it seems, will the U.S. leave Afghanistan by itself. From its start, the mission was international; the United States’ allies and partners have provided vital assistance and continue to do so. In spite of all that has transpired, the global cooperation demonstrated thus far provides perhaps a glimmer of optimism in an otherwise bleak time.
Image Source: Wakil Kohsar/AFP