The Taliban warned Saturday that it would be “unacceptable” to them and a “mistake” on the part of any nation to retain a military presence in Afghanistan to guard airports or other installations after the departure of U.S.-led NATO troops from the warn-torn country.
The insurgent group’s warning raises questions for Washington, other world countries, and aid groups with missions in Kabul about how to safely evacuate their personnel from the landlocked South Asian nation should fighting intensify and engulf the Afghan capital once all international forces withdraw by a September 11 deadline.
Turkey, with about 500 soldiers still in Afghanistan, has offered its services to guard and run Kabul’s international airport beyond the withdrawal deadline set by U.S. President Joe Biden. Ankara reportedly floated the proposal at a NATO meeting last month.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that talks between different allies, including Turkey, were underway on exactly how to ensure security and safe administration of the Kabul international airport.
But the Taliban vowed to resist deployment of any foreign military in the country after all international forces leave.
“The presence of foreign forces under whatever name or by whichever country in our homeland is unacceptable for the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate [the name of the Taliban’s ex-government in Kabul],” the insurgent group cautioned Saturday in a policy statement sent to journalists.
The Taliban insisted that security of airports, foreign embassies and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of Afghans, saying that “no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence” in Afghanistan.
“If anyone does make such a mistake, the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate shall view them as occupiers and shall take a stance against them as they have taken against invaders throughout history,” the statement said.
Stoltenberg said the security of the Kabul airport and other “critical” infrastructure” would be discussed at Monday’s NATO summit in Brussels.
“Because this is important not only for NATO but … for the whole international community, for a diplomatic presence of all countries, and of course, also for development aid and different aid organizations. So, NATO allies are addressing these issues as we speak."
While the Taliban regularly attacked U.S. and allied troops during their nearly two-decade long stay in Afghanistan, Turkish forces remain unharmed.
Turkey is the only Islamic country serving under NATO’s non-combatant Resolute Support mission, which is mandated to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces battling the insurgents.
The U.S.-led military drawdown is an outcome of the February 2020 agreement Washington signed with the Taliban in return for counterterrorism guarantees and pledges the group would negotiate a political settlement to the war with the Afghan government.
But the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue, which started last September in Qatar, has met with little success and mostly has been stalled, with each side blaming the other for the deadlock.
Afghan battlefield hostilities have particularly intensified since the foreign forces formally began pulling out from the country on May 1.
The Taliban have captured at least 15 new districts in recent days, while hundreds of combatants on both sides and Afghan civilians have been killed.
Meanwhile, Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks, targeting Afghan forces and civilians, mainly those from the minority Hazara Shi’ite community.
Officials said Saturday bomb blasts struck two buses in the western part of Kabul, killing at least seven people. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
The surge in violence has raised concerns Afghanistan will see more bloodshed in coming months, which could plunge the country into another round of civil war once all international forces leave.