Afghan Troops To Be Trained In Turkey Under First NATO Program Abroad

Afghan soldiers will receive training from NATO in Turkey, in the first such training program of its kind outside Afghanistan.

The location of the program for Afghan special forces, to begin after NATO officially finishes its mission in the country, has not been disclosed.

The move is expected to be the prelude to regular training programs outside Afghanistan for the country’s forces.

Turkey insists on not engaging in any combat operation in Afghanistan, except for self-defense purposes. However, it is negotiating with the Afghan government over the protection of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the withdrawal of US forces.

The move is considered a goodwill gesture by Turkey to show its willingness to improve ties with the West after it drew criticism for its military rapprochement with Russia through the purchase of the S-400 missile system.

The increased influx of Afghan migrants over recent weeks has prompted public criticism in Turkey and fueled anti-refugee sentiment, as hundreds have attempted to cross the border with Iran to flee instability and the Taliban after the US withdrawal.

Andrew Watkins, senior analyst on Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said Ankara assuming the role of host for the training of Afghan forces is just one of several ways Turkey is solidifying its role in a post-US Afghanistan.

“It may also serve as a point of leverage with the US and NATO, as Washington appears to be scrambling to address the many details, complications and ripple effects of its decision to withdraw,” he told Arab News.

However, for Watkins, it is unclear how the Taliban will respond to news of the training, though they have already issued stern warnings against Turkish troops assuming security duties in Kabul.

“Much depends on if Turkey will engage in direct diplomatic dialogue with the group, in order to come to some understanding that might make their continued presence in Kabul more sustainable,” he said.

In mid-July, the Taliban warned Turkey against keeping troops in Afghanistan and extending its military presence in the country.

In January 2021, the Turkish army assumed leadership of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, requiring it to place thousands of soldiers on standby to be deployed within days if needed.

This comes in addition to its key role offering advice and assistance to the government in Kabul.