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Turkey Drops Kabul Airport Plans, Will Assist if Taliban Ask, Sources Say

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in Nicosia, Cyprus, July 19, 2021.

Turkey has dropped plans to take over the Kabul airport after NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan but is ready to provide support if the Taliban request it, two Turkish sources said Monday.

Turkey, which has 600 troops in Afghanistan, had offered to keep them in Kabul to guard and operate the airport after other NATO members pulled out, and was discussing details with Washington and the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The plans were thrown into disarray in the past two days after Ghani fled the country on Sunday as the Taliban swept into Kabul and thousands of Afghans, also hoping to escape, thronged the airport on Monday.

The Taliban had also warned Turkey against keeping soldiers in Afghanistan to run the airport, warnings that Ankara had dismissed before the Islamist militants surged toward the capital.

"At the point reached, there is total chaos at Kabul airport. Order has been completely disrupted," said one of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity. "At this stage, the process of Turkish soldiers taking up control of the airport has automatically been dropped," the person added.

"However, in the event that the Taliban asks for technical support, Turkey can provide security and technical support at the airport."

Opposition parties in Turkey had criticized the government's plans, saying such a mission would put Turkish soldiers at risk and calling for their immediate withdrawal amid the uptick in violence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has called for calm in Afghanistan and criticized the Taliban's advance, said last week he could meet with the Taliban as part of efforts to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

Ankara had viewed the airport mission as a potential area of cooperation that could help heal frayed ties with Washington and other NATO allies, which have been strained over several issues.