Turkey's Erdogan says could meet Taliban leader

By: AFP      Published: 07:51 AM, 12 Aug, 2021
Turkey's Erdogan says could meet Taliban leader
File photo.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday said he could meet with the leader of the insurgent Taliban group in an attempt to help secure peace in Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters have captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan's provincial capitals in less than a week.

Turkey currently has troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO force and has offered to secure the strategic Kabul airport after US forces leave by the end of August.

Discussions continue between Turkish and American officials, and Turkey says it would secure the airport if diplomatic, financial and logistical conditions were met.

"The latest developments and the situation of the Afghan public are really, really troubling," Erdogan said during a televised interview with CNN Turk.

"Maybe I will even be in a position to receive the person who is their leader," Erdogan said, after referring to efforts by Turkish officials for talks with the Taliban.

Erdogan last month said Turkey would hold discussions with the Taliban as part of the peace process.

"Why? Because if we do not get control of things like this at a high level, it won't be possible to secure peace this time in Afghanistan," he added.

Erdogan's more pressing domestic concern is the Turkish public's fear of a wave of people fleeing Afghanistan as the insurgent group gains greater control over the country.

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and as the Turkish economy deteriorates, resentment towards them has grown with the main opposition calling for them to go.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey had the issue under control with walls being built in the country's east and south.

"Whether at the border with Iran or Iraq, our walls are rising significantly right now. These rising walls are to prevent illegal migration to our country," he said.

US President Joe Biden ordered the American military's withdrawal from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the US by Afghanistan-based Taliban-backed Al-Qaeda.

Afghan army chief replaced

Afghanistan has replaced its army chief, as Taliban militants continue to make rapid advances.

The insurgents have now taken control of at least nine of the country's 34 provincial capitals. Heavy fighting was reported on Wednesday in the cities of Kandahar and Ghazni.

President Ashraf Ghani earlier flew to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif - traditionally an anti-Taliban bastion - to try to rally pro-government forces.

The removal of the country's army chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, was confirmed to the BBC on Wednesday. He had only been in the post since June. His successor will have to deal with escalating violence across the country, as the Taliban continue their offensive. US and other foreign troops have all but withdrawn following 20 years of military operations.

More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in the past month, according to the UN.

On Wednesday, President Ghani held crisis talks in Mazar-i-Sharif with ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and prominent ethnic Tajik leader Atta Mohammad Noor about defending the city.

Mr Dostum, a veteran commander, was quoted as saying: "The Taliban have come to the north several times but they were always trapped."

For years, Mr Ghani tried to sideline the warlords in an attempt to boost the Afghan National Army, and now he is turning to them in his hour of need, the BBC says. Earlier this week, the president also agreed to arm pro-government militia.

Mazar-i-Sharif lies close to the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and its loss would mark the complete collapse of the government's control over the north of Afghanistan.