US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey spoke with a small group of journalists at a round-table meeting in Ankara only hours after US President Barack Obama unveiled his new strategy on Afghanistan in a long-awaited speech delivered at the US Military Academy at West Point. During the meeting, Jeffrey clearly indicated that US expects Turkey to be “more flexible” on the definition of tasks to be carried out by their mission in Afghanistan.
In West Point, New York, Obama announced he would deepen the US involvement in Afghanistan, sending 30,000 more troops to fight the Taliban. He also called for additional commitments from US allies and pledged to strengthen ties with Pakistan, where al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been based.
Jeffrey, first of all, emphasized his country’s great appreciation of Turkey’s diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis Afghanistan and Pakistan, its contribution to these two countries on economic and political fronts and its contribution to Afghanistan through its hundreds of non-combat troops as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
“But again, we’ll be asking for the Turks and for all of our allies to do even more,” Jeffrey said.
“What we’re asking of all of our allies is to provide additional troops and to take on additional roles, particularly in protecting the population. We think that’s an extremely important mission and that’s at the core of our request. So we are looking at specific numbers, but we’re not releasing the numbers because the numbers are a question for discussion,” he replied when asked to elaborate on what he meant by “do even more.” He confirmed that US officials have already shared this “specific number” with Turkish officials at “very high levels” during talks, both in Ankara and Washington, admitting that the issue would likely be on the agenda of a White House meeting between Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 7.
“First of all, every soldier in Afghanistan is a combat soldier in the sense that everybody has to carry a weapon and is subject to attack by the Taliban. The specific missions to be carried out are something that is determined within NATO,” Jeffrey said when asked whether US has been asking Turkey for combat-troops.
When reminded of Ankara’s unwillingness to send combat troops, Jeffrey noted that every NATO member has been implementing its own “caveats,” imposed by contributor nations that restrict where their troops can be deployed or their range of tasks. He said he was not aware of the details of what specific missions are needed in Afghanistan, adding: “What I do know is generally we want fewer caveats from everybody, we want more flexibility in carrying out the mission. But the main mission is protecting the Afghani people, which is a mission that the Turkish troops are doing. We want to enhance that.”
Jeffrey’s remarks came a day before today’s meeting in Brussels where Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will join his colleagues from NATO in order to discuss the US’s expectation that its fellow NATO member-states supplement the buildup in Afghanistan with up to 10,000 of their own troops and military trainers.
In early November, Turkey, which was already supporting the ISAF with around 800 non-combat troops, took over the leadership of the Kabul Regional Command from France for a year. The number of non-combat Turkish troops at the Kabul Regional Command has gradually been increased to 1,800 due to the assumption of the rotating leadership. So far, Turkey has consistently voiced its determination to refrain from sending any combat troops to Afghanistan, but it is yet not clear whether it will respond positively to the latest US demands.