Announced in April by President Joe Biden, the end of the US military presence in Afghanistan is producing consequences that are showing in real time the extent of the new administration’s foreign policy reset in the Gulf after the end of the Trump years.
The main beneficiary of the new course seems to be Qatar, on which NATO is relying for an orderly transition in Afghanistan after the end of its Resolute Support Mission. On 14 June security officials have confirmed that the North Atlantic Alliance has approached Doha to secure a military base to train Afghan forces. As part of its operations in Afghanistan, NATO has been training and equipping Afghan security forces, now faced with a serious escalation in fighting in several provinces, where the Taliban are building momentum after the announcement of the US withdrawal.
The establishment of a training ground for Afghan Special Forces in Qatar, where the US maintains more than 10.000 troops at the al-Udeid air base, confirms the centrality of Doha (where the Taliban have a political office since 2013) in the negotiations on the future of Afghanistan. Security sources confirmed that the UK, the US and Turkey were ready to contribute to the training mission.
The role of Ankara in the Afghan file is particularly noteworthy, also in the light of the Turkish commitment to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul after the end of the US military presence. The agreement, reached by Biden and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Summit held in Brussels on 14 June, is considered vital to protect the diplomatic presence of the Afghan government’s partners in the capital, given the Taliban’s recent advances. It is also an indication that, despite major differences confirmed in the latest meeting between the two Presidents, Turkey and the US are ready to work together to stabilise Afghanistan, even after the 11th of September 2021 deadline for the withdrawal of the American troops.
The Turkish angle is also important when considering the strong military ties between Ankara and Doha (where since 2019 Turkey has military base) and their ideological affinities, based on the support of Islamist groups and movements in the Arab world.
On the other hand, the front of Arab states that normalised their diplomatic relations with Israel after the Abraham Accords is under increasing scrutiny in Washington, where the new administration has started raising questions about their human rights records, as well as their political trajectories.
The pressure recently put on the UAE to remove the Huawei equipment from its network highlights Washington’s concerns about China’s expanding influence in the Gulf, where Beijing is making inroads by offering an alternative option to Gulf monarchies wrong-footed by Washington’s new foreign policy priorities. It also raises doubts on the real extent of the Gulf reconciliation agreement reached at the al-Ula summit in January 2021, as Abu Dhabi and Doha seem moving along parallel lines that never intersect.
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Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region