Turkish Opposition Leader Tells Erdogan to let U.S. 'Pick up the Pieces' in Afghanistan

Tukey's opposition leader told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to not get involved with the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO troops from Afghanistan, and to instead let the U.S. "pick up the pieces."

"Mr. Erdogan, let whoever brought Afghanistan to this situation, pick up the pieces," opposition leader Meral Aksener said in parliament Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. "Don't be so eager to sacrifice your own soldier to save the life of an American soldier."

Turkey, NATO's only majority-Muslim country, has offered to assist the U.S. and NATO with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by protecting and running the Hamid Karzai International airport. Turkey has around 500 non-combat troops in Afghanistan and is seeking ally support for the mission.

U.S. and Turkish military officials met in Ankara on Thursday to discuss the plans, despite the disapproval from the opposition.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tayyip Erdogan NATO
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a press conference after the NATO summit at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels on June 14, 2021. Yves Herman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, after a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of a NATO summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey was looking for "diplomatic, logistic and financial assistance" from the United States to protect and operate the airport. Turkey also wanted Pakistan and Hungary to be involved in the mission, he said.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said a technical delegation from the United States had arrived for talks.

"We will continue to take on the responsibility of operating the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which we have been doing for the past six years, if the necessary conditions are met," Akar said Thursday. "Discussions on this matter are continuing. No decisions have been reached for now."

Akar said: "We want to achieve the best result for the interests of our country and for those of Afghanistan. That's what we are working for. Our aim is to continue working for the security, peace and welfare of our Afghan brothers."

Critics see Turkey's offer to operate the airport as being part of an effort by Erdogan's government to mend ties with the United States which have deteriorated over an array of disagreements. Those have centered on Turkey's purchase of Russian weapons and U.S. support to Syrian Kurdish fighters which Ankara says are linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey. They question the safety of the Turkish non-combat forces there.

Around 2,300-3,500 remaining U.S. troops and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. There are concerns that the Afghan government and its security forces may be ill-prepared for the withdrawal and that the country may descend into chaos.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America. In recent weeks Taliban fighters have overrun several districts in southern and northern Afghanistan, convincing government security forces to surrender and seizing their weapons and military vehicles.

Erdogan Supporters
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JUNE 13: Supporters of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave a giant poster to welcome him on June 13, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium. On Monday, June 14, NATO Leaders will hold a one day Summit where they will talk about Afghanistan. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images