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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Is Turkey a target in Afghanistan?

A suicide bomber targeted a Turkish Embassy vehicle in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, on Feb. 26, 2015. One Turkish soldier and one Afghan passer-by were killed in the attack which happened in an area close to the Iranian, Turkish and Germanembassies. This is second attack that targeted a foreign convoy in Kabul in the last month.

The attack suddenly made us think about Turkey, one of the nations that serves in Afghanistan within the NATO Resolute Support Mission, and if it has become a target of the Taliban. Another question that comes to mind is what Turkey is doing in Afghanistan. Firstly it should be noted that these are the questions which are always asked immediately after every incident that causes the death of a Turkish citizen in Afghanistan and is then forgotten.

There should be a cautious approach to such incidents, which lead to the questioning of Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban initially claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the first one directed to a Turkish target since the beginning of theNATO mission in Afghanistan in 2001. There have been some accidents before which have resulted in Turks losing their lives in Afghanistan, but those were never as a result of a direct attack.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told the media that the target of the attack was a convoy of foreigners’ vehicles. However, when it was disclosed later that the vehicle belonged to Turkish diplomats, Mujahid tweeted there has been a mistake and said, “The purpose of today’s attack in Kabul was a convoy of U.S. troops. The embassy or any other country’s nationals was not the objective.” It was also stated theTaliban has no hostility towards Turkey and Turkish people in Afghanistan. This statement is almost the same as earlier responses the Taliban gave following similar incidents.

In several hostage-taking incidents which have taken place in Afghanistan since 2003, the Taliban has released all Turkish hostages unharmed when they learned they were Turkish citizens. The most recent hostage-taking incident happened in 2013, when a Turkish civilian helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled area. The Taliban militants had captured eight Turkish nationals in the helicopter. Yet, when the Taliban learned they were Turkish, the hostages were freed within three weeks. In an emailed statement, the Taliban said they want to develop good relations with the Turkish people and state, and the Turkish hostages were released, “as a sign of goodwill and as an Islamic and humanitarian gesture of respect.” The release of unharmed Turkish hostages shows Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan and its soft power has an impact on all segments of the country. Thus, no Turkish military personnel had lost their life until recently due to an attack or as a result of Turkey’s presence and its non-combatant role in Afghanistan.

Therefore, I don’t think the Taliban would consciously target a convoy from Turkey, a country which has won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Turkey is pursuing a very transparent foreign policy in Afghanistan. The proximity between the two countries has helped them reach a level of friendship and brotherhood. As a matter of fact, Turkey maintains its presence in Afghanistan as a result of these good bilateral relations. Besides, Turkey, without a hidden agenda, maintains its contribution to Afghanistan by continuing to take part in projects which could positively affect the daily lives of ordinary Afghans.

As of January 2015, there are only four framework nations left in Afghanistan who still have soldiers in the country: the United States, Germany, Italy and Turkey. Among them, Turkey is the only country that has increased the number of its troops in Afghanistan in the post-2014 era. One of the reasons Turkey has increased the number of troops is the country’s enhanced security responsibility in Kabul and the surrounding areas. Yet, Turkish troops are still non-combatant, as they were in missions from 2001 to 2014. During those 13 years, all non-combatant troops served in projects carried out on behalf of Turkey.

In these circumstances, and also once it was discussed that Turkey might host peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan administration, it is not likely Turkey could be a direct target of the Taliban. Having been a more prominent actor in Afghanistan by the beginning of 2015 does not also trigger a Taliban attack on Turkish diplomats and soldiers in Afghanistan. Despite everything which has happened, Turkey will continue to be there and provide contributions to Afghanistan’s security, stability, prosperity and peace as long as the Afghan government and people wish.