ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkish troops in Afghanistan will not engage in combat with the Taliban, Turkey’s defense minister and diplomats emphasized on Thursday in reaction to the United States’ request for extra soldiers for ‘flexible’ missions.
Ankara responded coolly late Wednesday to the United States’ request for more Turkish forces to be deployed to Afghanistan as officials emphasized the country’s policy of keeping its troops out of combat in the war-torn country.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for NATO allies to dispatch more soldiers came only days before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to visit Washington.
Turkey increased its troops in Afghanistan by sending 958 more soldiers last month, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said late Wednesday.
Noting Turkey’s reluctance to take part in armed clashes with the Taliban, Gonul underscored “no shift in this policy.”
“We maintain our reservations about Turkish troops’ involvement in military operations and combat in Afghanistan,” Gonul told reporters, although U.S. Ambassador to Ankara James Jeffrey called for “more flexibility” regarding job descriptions.
After wrapping up his talks in Jordan, Turkish President Abdullah Gul also rejected the idea of Turks participating in combat missions in Afghanistan.
“No doubt, our efficiency will increase, but we will decide how to do so,” Gül told reporters. “We do not want to be in a position of fighting there.”
Turkey took over command of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Kabul on Oct. 31. A total of 1,750 Turkish soldiers are currently on duty in Afghanistan; four teams are engaged in training missions.
Obama announced his decision to send 30,000 additional forces and asked his NATO allies to contribute more to fight the Taliban militants. NATO foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue when they meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
In a written statement late Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry expressed hopes that Obama’s new strategy would bring peace and stability to war-torn Afghanistan and vowed to increase its contribution, but in terms of “training and reconstruction works.”
“As a close friend and ally, we indeed support the U.S. call on the international community to contribute more,” the statement read. “We have been increasing our contributions in line with our long-term commitments for Afghanistan.”
“Obama is asking for combat forces who will engage in armed clashes. But it is clear-cut that we do not have such an opportunity,” a diplomatic source noted Thursday.
In reaction to Jeffrey’s remarks, the source said: “We find his remarks strange since the U.S. knows very well what our stance is. We have not received an official proposal.”
Turkey will increase its humanitarian efforts and training mission to develop Afghan security forces, the ministry said. “As the international community agrees today, military methods are not enough to answer the existing problems in Afghanistan,” it said in its statement. “It is vital to support humanitarian efforts and social-economic development projects in order to achieve peace and stability.”
“We’ve decided to widen our works by setting up a new provincial reconstruction team in the near future,” the ministry added.
Officials said that any involvement in armed clashes would be counterproductive, noting that Turks are popular among locals thanks to their non-military missions and that foreign officers sometimes carry Turkish badges to help them feel more secure against possible attacks.
Turkey is hosting a tripartite summit that the Pakistani and Afghan presidents will attend in order to try and solve security problems and disputes between the two neighbors. The last one took place April 1, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul met his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai, in Istanbul.
“We pay attention that the international community carries out civilian and security missions to stabilize Afghanistan in maximum coordination with Afghan and U.N. officials,” the statement said.
European countries are generally reluctant to dispatch large numbers of soldiers. Before promising any more troops, leaders are likely to wait for an international conference on Afghanistan, which will take place Jan. 28 in London.
Erdogan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug met Thursday in a weekly routine meeting. No statement was released at the end of the talks, which lasted for one hour and 40 minutes, but the U.S. request for extra troops for Afghanistan was expected to be on the agenda.
The Supreme Military Council (YAS) will convene Friday to review the country’s defense policy. The defense officials and army generals are expected to discuss the Afghanistan mission.