MENA WATCH NEWS : Turkish President Erdoğan: ‘We Have No Hesitation At All In Getting The Second Shipment’ Of S-400s; Central Asian Countries ‘May Want To Join Together As Partners In The Positive Steps That The Taliban Will Take’
On August 29, 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to Turkish journalists about the second shipment to Turkey of the Russian S-400 air defense system, Turkey’s relations with the Taliban and a possible Turkey-Taliban agreement on the joint management of Hamid Karzai International Airport, and a forthcoming new law to prevent what he calls “lying terrorism” by the opposition parties in Turkey. Erdoğan spoke to the journalists on a flight returning from a diplomatic trip to the Balkans in which he visited Bosnia Herzegovina and North Macedonia. This report will review some of his statements.
“We Have No Hesitation At All In Getting The Second Shipment” Of S-400s
Following a June 11, 2021 meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and President Erdoğan on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels, President Erdoğan said that he had told Biden: “As Turkey, do not expect us to change course, either on the F-35 or on the S-400, because we did our part for the F-35.” Following the same line, Erdoğan recently announced that Turkey would be getting a second shipment of S-400s from Russia, a decision that has been criticized by some in the opposition press. In the August 29 meeting with journalists on his plane, he said of the S-400: “On the subject of Russia, we have no hesitation at all in getting the second shipment [of S-400s]. We have many steps [taken] with Russia, be it on the matter of the S-400 or concerning the defense industry.”
“If [The Taliban] Take Care Of The Security, Then If Many People Are Killed There, How Are We Going To Explain This To The World?”
President Erdoğan also spoke to journalists about relations between his government and the Taliban as the group establishes its governance of Afghanistan. Among other Turkish military personnel in Afghanistan, there had been 600 Turkish soldiers stationed at the airport in Kabul. Following Biden and Erdoğan’s June meeting, the two leaders agreed on Turkey’s role in securing the airport following the withdrawal of American military forces from Afghanistan. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said after the meeting: “The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport and we are now working through how to execute to get to that.” An article in the Turkish press reported that “those with news of the meeting” were saying that Erdoğan agreed to secure the airport in exchange for, among other things, U.S. recognition of Turkey’s positions in Libya and Nagorno Karabagh, and U.S.-Turkey cooperation in Idlib.
The prospect of Turkish troops remaining in Afghanistan after an American withdrawal provoked a brotherly yet uncompromising response from the Taliban, who have insisted that all foreign troops leave Afghanistan in accordance with the agreement signed in Doha in February 2020 and threatened military action against Turkish forces. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said: “We want to see Turkey as Turkey, not as a part of NATO. Turkey is treating us like it treats the Syrian opposition. Whereas, at the least we want a relationship like [that of Turkey’s relationship with] Libya. We want to meet with President Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan is a very distinguished leader for us and for the world of Islam. We want to share the realities of Afghanistan with him.” In the past week, there have been claims in the Turkish press that Turkey and the Taliban are close to an agreement over the joint management of the airport. However on August 29, it was reported that the Taliban had said that “it is still early” for such an agreement. On August 31, spokesman Mujahid said to Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu Ajansı: “We want Turkey’s support to continue. To have good relations with Turkey is one of our goals. The people and government of Turkey are our friends. There are many reasons for this friendship to continue.”
It is in this context that President Erdoğan said to journalists on August 29: “What does the Taliban say about the airport issue? [they say]: ‘We’ll handle the security and you handle the operation [of the airport].’ How can we let you handle the security? If you take care of the security, then if many people are killed there, how are we going to explain this to the world? This is not an easy task. We talked about such things, and then just the next day close to 200 people died.” He was likely referring to the August 27 twin suicide bombing at the airport that killed over 100 people, including 13 U.S. service members.