US will be able to keep embassy in Afghanistan after Turkey agrees to secure airport

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FILE PHOTO: Afghan passengers walk in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Afghan passengers walk in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo

Turkey will secure the Afghan capital's airport after American troops withdraw, in an agreement designed to help the US, Britain and others to keep their embassies open.

Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, told Joe Biden that his nation would take a lead role to safeguard the air link out of an increasingly beleaguered Kabul.

Contingency plans to continue the safety of the airport had become a priority for diplomats working out how to operate after US troops leave by September.

Officials had said there was little prospect of them running embassies if they could not guarantee the safe evacuation of staff, or if there was any prospect of the airport falling into Taliban hands. Australia has already closed its embassy in the city after saying it could not guarantee the safety of staff.

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser said the issue had been discussed by the leaders at this week's Nato summit.

"The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport and we are now working through how to execute to get to that," he said.

Turkey, as a Muslim-majority nation but also a member of the Western alliance, has played a key role in Afghanistan since 2001 including by sending troops in non-combat roles and, more recently, welcoming Taliban and government officials for talks on the country's future.

America's embassy meanwhile went into strict lockdown on Thursday after it was struck by a series of Covid-19 infections in the country's third wave of cases.

A notice sent by embassy management said that 114 people at the sprawling and heavily guarded mission had contracted Covid-19 and one has died, with several others medically evacuated.

The embassy said it was confining all staff to their quarters except to get food or to exercise or relax alone, with all team sports and most indoor meetings banned.

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