The martyrdom of 12 Turkish soldiers in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan caused profound grief across the country. Now there is a debate on what our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan at all.
Leading the debate was Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of main opposition party, the CHP, who asked, simply, “Why are we in Afghanistan?”
Similar reactions have been voiced by those who say “Afghanistan is a faraway land” that has been in civil war for years, and that it was the Americans who got their allies entangled in this mess.
Prompted by the shock of losing 12 members of the Turkish armed forces, some insist that Turkish soldiers have nothing to do in Afghanistan and should be withdrawn.
But there are some fundamental points that should be kept in mind when passing such judgments:
- Our soldiers died in a Turkish helicopter accident. Sadly, such accidents also occur in Turkey. There was no attack against the Turkish helicopter or clash involving Turkish soldiers.
- Since the first day that the Turkish contingent began its Afghanistan mission, there has never been an attack against them or any form of hostile attitude toward them. To the contrary, Afghanis have shown much care and sympathy to our soldiers.
- There are many reasons for this warm attitude and affection. Since the 1920s, there has been much mutual solidarity, support and cooperation between the two countries. Afghanistan may be a faraway land in geographic terms, but at the human level, we are very close.
- Of course the US had its own strategic calculations when it sought to send an international military force to Afghanistan in 2001. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by a decision of the UN Security Council. It's comprised of troops not only from NATO, but from 43 countries including Australia, Azerbaijan, South Korea and Albania. When Turkey decided to participate, it took into account its own strategic interests and our affection for the Afghanis. That is why this policy has been generally supported until today.
- Turkey has clearly defined the mission of the 1,845 officers and soldiers it provided, and this was accepted by its coalition partners. The Turkish contingent in Afghanistan is not a “combat force” that gets involved in clashes. Its mission is mainly to assist in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Turkish soldiers are constructing schools, health centers and training Afghan security personnel. With this peaceful and humanitarian attitude, Turkish soldiers have been able to build a “bridge of affection” between the two countries.
To be blunt, Afghanistan should be last country about which we question “what we are doing in that faraway land.” The reason for Turkey’s military presence there is obvious.
Moreover, Turkey is not a country that watches international developments from afar and refrains from participating in international operations. Our strategy is to have a say in regional and international affairs and to play an active part.
This is why we have soldiers alongside international forces from Bosnia to Somalia, from Lebanon to Kosovo. This is a fundamental strategic stance. Are we now to remove ourselves from the world by asking “what are we doing there?”