Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has rebuffed criticism by the opposition of Turkish military presence in Afghanistan following the death of 12 Turkish soldiers in the war-torn country in a helicopter crash, defending Turkish missions in Afghanistan and other countries.
“You can be a great country if you have great goals. Our military presence abroad is a symbol of peace, brotherhood and confidence. How can you say Turkey should question its presence in Afghanistan? Those who have a broad vision should be proud of our military presence abroad,” Erdoğan said on Wednesday during his Justice and Development party's (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting.
“Who will be there if not Turkish soldiers?” Erdoğan asked, adding that “everyone should act responsibly and conscientiously in order to avoid using the Afghanistan martyrs for political purposes.”
Last week's helicopter crash in Kabul left 12 Turkish soldiers and four Afghan civilians dead and kicked of a heated debate over the necessity of Turkey's presence in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led peace mission. The crash was the deadliest in Afghanistan for NATO forces since August, when 30 American troops died when a Chinook helicopter was apparently shot down in Wardak province in the center of the country.
Opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said in a statement on Friday that the latest incident in Afghanistan, escalating violence in the war-torn country and the latest developments, which he described as “provocative,” all make it necessary to “reconsider our military presence there.”
Bahçeli continued his criticisms at his party's parliamentary group meeting on Wednesday.
“The Turkish military did not go to Afghanistan to legitimize the occupation [of Afghanistan]. … We already have many problems, it is meaningless to lose lives elsewhere,” he said.
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has also taken the crash as an opportunity to criticize the government for the Turkish mission in Afghanistan. “What are we doing in Afghanistan?” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu asked on Sunday. “You are saying that Turkey is a great state. Turkey is a great state, but you are a small prime minister,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Wednesday at his party's meeting in Parliament in response to Erdoğan.
He also referred to a motion to allow US troops to open a northern front before the Iraqi war started, which was rejected by the Turkish Parliament on March 1, 2003. “If the March 1 motion had been passed, not 12 but maybe 12,000 Turkish martyrs would have been brought back to Turkey,” he continued.
CHP Aydın deputy Bülent Tezcan submitted a petition to Parliament, demanding Erdoğan answer a series of questions about the mission in Afghanistan, ranging from Turkish causalities so far to the ongoing investigation into the accident on Friday.
Turkey has about 1,800 troops in Afghanistan and leads NATO operations in Kabul province. The force has suffered relatively few casualties because of its noncombatant role. In 2009, two Turkish soldiers, one of them a colonel, were killed in a traffic accident in northern Afghanistan.