Turkey may maintain military presence after U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Ankara could still seek to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan after the US departs, Asia Times reported on Saturday.

Recent last-minute manoeuvres by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration have brought Ankara to the fore in efforts to secure a more stable future for the war-torn country, the report noted.

A U.S.-backed peace conference in Istanbul was scheduled for last month, however it was postponed. Turkey may take a leading role in talks which may be relaunched post-Ramadan.

"We thought that it would be beneficial to postpone it ... We consulted Qatar, the US and the UN and decided to hold it after the Ramadan and Eid festivities," said Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, adding there is "no need to hurry "after the recent decision by the US to withdraw its troops.

Yet, as fighting escalates on the ground in Afghanistan - and aid agencies warn of a looming humanitarian crisis - there seem little grounds for optimism for either the conference or for Turkey’s diplomatic intervention, Asia Times said.

“The likelihood that you’ll get all the sides coming together here is incredibly low,” said Andrew Watkins, senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said in the report.

“When the U.S. announced it was withdrawing, that took all the oxygen out the room. Now, there’s little space for anyone to focus on anything else,” Watkins said.

There is the prospect of a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan leading to large numbers of refugees heading west.

"Refugee displacement would very likely end up on Turkey’s eastern borders," Watkins added.

Turkey is already a major destination for Afghans fleeing the conflict, with more than 200,000 caught trying to enter Turkey in 2019 alone, the report said.

In 2020, UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) figures showed that Afghans were the largest migrant group hazarding the dangerous sea crossing in the Aegean from Turkey into Greece.

Avoiding a further refugee crisis - Turkey already plays host to many Syrian refugees - would be a powerful incentive for further engagement by Ankara, the report said.