U.S. unilateralism helps boost Turkey’s self-reliance policy – former top aide

Washington’s lack of consultation with NATO allies encourages Turkey to pursue policies of self-reliance in national security and foreign relations, said
Rich Outzen, a retired colonel and former senior adviser to U.S. special representative for Syrian engagement James Jeffrey.

In Afghanistan, the Biden administration rushed the process of deciding when and how to exit the country and allies were left in the dark, Outzen, who also served as U.S. military attaché to Afghanistan, said in a guest appearance on Ahval’s Anatolian Dispatch podcast.

“The Biden team did not come to the job with an Afghanistan policy, it took three months to devise a policy and in that period NATO allies were not informed. By the time the decision was made, it was already late in the game,’’ said Outzen, who stepped down as adviser to Jeffrey in February.

U.S. withdrawal of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and an end to combat air operations led to the rapid collapse of the Afghan military and government, he said.

Turkey has longstanding cultural and ethnic ties with Afghanistan and avoided fighting against the Taliban during the NATO mission in the country to spare Afghan lives, Outzen said.

Turkish personnel helped run hospitals and were involved with other non-military activities during the two-decade mission, while conducting talks with the Taliban or people linked to the group, said Outzen.

The Taliban, which seized power in war-battered Afghanistan last month, lack the necessary skills to run the country and may need Turkey’s help, Outzen said. “They even admitted this for maintaining radars and running the (Kabul) airport,” he said.

Outzen said Turkey's engagement with Afghanistan would serve NATO and Afghan interests. The Taliban government at this time lacks “ethnic, gender or political inclusiveness”, he said.

Turkey stationed around 500 soldiers in non-combat missions in Afghanistan. It has offered to help run Kabul airport now that foreign forces, which also U.S. troops, have withdrawn from the country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week will be worth following to gauge the state of U.S.-Turkish relations, according to Outzen and Anatolian Dispatch host Edward Stafford, who retired from the U.S. foreign service in October 2016.

Erdoğan's visit was preceded by a two-day trip to Washington D.C. by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal last week. Önal met with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.

The White House has yet to announce any bilateral talks for U.S. officials attending the UNGA. President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak at the meeting but is not expected to hold one-to-one meetings with foreign leaders. 

According to the New York Times, unlike last year’s UNGA, conducted almost entirely virtually because of pandemic restrictions, the United Nations is expecting leaders from at least 83 countries to attend.

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