by: Joshua W. Walker, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in the German Marshall Fund, and Truman National Security Fellow
President Obama laid out his new Afghanistan strategy on last week by ordering an additional 30,000 US troops to the country. While the majority of the analysis in Washington has centered on the level of US forces, the President emphasized that the “burden is not ours alone to bear.” Yet the reality is that this international coalition is waning, not surging, and is in desperate need of a regional champion that can serve as a model partner for the US in Afghanistan. Obama’s ideal partner is Turkey.
Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, is part of almost every European organization, chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference States, is a UN Security Council member, is a member of the G-20, and is one of the few examples of a functioning Muslim-majority democracy in the Middle East. Having once contributed the third highest number of troops to the mission in Afghanistan, the Turks now are taking command for the second time and have recently doubled their troop levels to 1,600. With 2.5 million soldiers, strong Transatlantic and Muslim credentials, Turkey is an underutilized ally that Obama would be wise to actively engage.
The President should begin that process through a personalized request to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is visiting the White House today, Monday December 7. Highlighting the Turks’ considerable accomplishments and potential in Afghanistan would encourage Turkey to take a more active leadership role in the region. By playing to the Turks’ newly discovered self-confidence, the President can transfer critical responsibility to an ideal partner that is poised to play an increasingly important regional role for many years to come. Not only will enhanced US-Turkish cooperation serve the interests of Afghanistan but it is also a win-win for America and Turkey.
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