How the US can guarantee security for its Afghan allies
US President Joe Biden has promised to withdraw all the US troops from Afghanistan before September 11 this year. And the ground report says that his commitment may reach before the deadline. But as the US troops are leaving, the Taliban are advancing towards Kabul and they are already gained control of several districts from the Afghan forces. One of the main reasons behind such defeat of government forces is the absence of US air support. As a result, as soon as the US leaves, Afghan forces may soon face devastating defeat and lose control over the Afghan capital.
But the Biden administration is receiving immense pressure internally and externally to ensure the security of their Afghan allies. So, the US is trying to explore multiple ways for a security solution that will engage regional partners and serve the interest of the US. Here, the US can consider three strategic approaches which can ensure the security of its Afghan allies and also serve the interest of other partners.
First of all, the US should consider the proposal of Turkey. This NATO ally has recently proposed to provide security to the Kabul airport after the US troops leave Afghanistan. In addition to the training of Afghan forces, Turkey has been providing security to the Kabul airport for a long. This proposal was also discussed between US President Joe Biden and his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan in last week's NATO summit. But none of the parties has further disclosed the matter.
The Turkish proposal came when Turkey is having tense relation with the US on several fronts. The purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and Turkish assertive policies in the region have caused it several US sanctions. So, it is certain that Turkey wants to convince the new US administration by proposing a helping hand to make the way for a viable US exit from Afghanistan and to request the Biden administration for further consideration of its sanctions against Turkey.
But all of these possibilities are still vague as the US administration has denied any consideration so far. However, Turkey is still hopeful as the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance had agreed to transitional funding for the airport and hinted at a key Turkish role, suggesting negotiations are continuing.
Nevertheless, the Taliban has denied any Turkish proposal for the Kabul airport security after the US troops fully leave Afghanistan. It is because, any foreign involvement in Kabul airport means safe engagement of Afghan officials and foreign Diplomats in Afghan affairs. Moreover, Turkey will stay as a NATO ally and for sure it will serve the interest of the US. So, it will be another foreign stronghold that will deter any advancement by the Taliban forces for full control of Kabul city.
On the other hand, the security of the Kabul airport is one of the most vital issues for the US. Because the airport is a key entry point for diplomats and aid workers. Moreover, if the Taliban advances and takes control of Kabul after the full US withdrawal then it will be a crucial evacuation point for remaining US allies and Afghan officials.
For its part, Turkey has good relations with both the Afghan government and the Taliban. And it has also warm relation with Pakistan which is the key player in post-US Afghanistan. Because Pakistan is the closest ally of the Taliban and Turkey can use its influence over Pakistan to negotiate the proposal. The US administration also wanted to negotiate between Pakistan and the Afghan government as Pakistan has leverage over the Taliban. And here, Turkey can help the US attaining its interest as it has stronger relations with both sides. Turkey also has good relations with other regional powers like China, Iran, and Russia which makes it a reliable partner for the US. So, the Biden administration can consider the Turkish proposal for the future of Afghanistan.
Secondly, the US should continue to work to build an airbase in any of the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. Because it will directly help the US for necessary drone attacks or airstrikes against any threat to the US interest. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has confirmed that Pakistan and the US have held talks on the matter. Though Jake Sullivan stressed that the discussions have been constructive, Pakistani officials have openly denied any possibilities of a US airbase inside their territory.
The US still has chances to convince Pakistan. It can propose Pakistan with economic and military benefits which may eventually persuade the Pakistan government.
However, if the Pakistani government fails to co-operate with the US, the Biden administration should also consider other neighbouring countries such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for establishing any airbase. Because these three countries share direct borders with Afghanistan and the US's NATO ally Turkey has warm relations with these countries. So, here the US can use Turkey as a negotiator to persuade any of them. Selecting a neighbouring state for a possible US airbase is crucial because it will provide the US with easy access to the Afghan territory.
Finally, the New York Times has previously reported that the US is considering intervening with drones or warplanes if there is an "extraordinary crisis" such as the fall of the Afghan capital in the hand of the Taliban. And such operation can only be launched from the US airbases in the Gulf region as the US troops are leaving Afghanistan soon. But such an operation will be much more complex as it will require presidential approval. And due to the long distance, the likely low success rates for such air support will also make it less effective. But we should also remember that something is better than nothing.
Nevertheless, the US should consider more options if necessary to provide security to its Afghan allies. Otherwise, thousands may die as soon as the US fully exits from Afghanistan--if there is no suitable agreement between Taliban and Afghan Government. And, the US commitment to the safety of its allies will also be questioned.
The writer is a student of International Relations,
University of Dhaka