Taliban calls on Turkey to withdraw military from Afghanistan

Turkey should pull out its armed forces from Afghanistan in line with a 2020 agreement with the United States, a Taliban spokesman said.

The statement potentially undermines an initiative by Turkey to help repair relations with Washington through an agreement to use its troops to secure Kabul airport. It also raises questions about how governments and international organisations will securely evacuate personnel from Afghanistan.   

"Turkey was part of NATO forces in the past 20 years, so as such, they should withdraw from Afghanistan on the basis of the agreement we signed with U.S. on the 29th of February 2020," Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman in Doha, told Reuters.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium on Monday to discuss cooperation and serious disagreements over regional policy, which include Syria, Libya and Turkey’s purchase of S-400 air defence missiles from Russia.

"Otherwise, Turkey is a great Islamic country,” Shaheen said. “Afghanistan has had historical relations with it. We hope to have close and good relations with them as a new Islamic government is established in the country in future.”

The State Department and the Turkish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar spoke on the phone on Thursday to "discuss bilateral cooperation and regional issues," the Pentagon said in a statement. There was no specific mention of Afghanistan. The two had a "positive exchange of views on regional issues", Akar said.

An agreement in February 2020 between the Taliban and the administration of former President Donald Trump foresaw the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by May 1.

Biden said in April that the pullout would be completed by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on the United States that prompted a U.S. invasion and the ousting of the Taliban government.

Turkish officials say they made the proposal to protect Kabul airport at a NATO meeting in May. Turkey stations 500 soldiers in Afghanistan, the largest remaining foreign military contingent, and has played a key non-combat role in NATO missions there.