The British evacuation operations at Kabul Airport have come to a close today with the final departure of a flight carrying Afghan civilians. On the ground at the airport, the US is entering the final phase of its own operations before the 31 August withdrawal date. US commanders continue to stress that the probability of another attack on the airport remains considerable following a limited number of US drone strikes that have killed a handful of high-profile ISIS-K members. As of 1430 hours, Eastern time today, over 117,000 people have been evacuated from the country. Of this number, 5,400 are American citizens. The number of US troops currently deployed to the airport is declining as well. There are now 4,000 troops on the ground there, down from a highwater mark of 5,800 reached earlier in the week.
Recent reports from Kabul seem to suggest the Taliban and Turkey are close to reaching an agreement on Kabul airport. Under the proposed agreement, Turkey and Qatar will operate Kabul Airport, with Turkey expected to provide security through a private firm employing mostly ex-Turkish troops. This move is similar to one Turkey executed during the Azerbaijan-Armenia war last year. In exchange for permission to assume responsibility for airport operations, Turkey is expected to formally recognize the Taliban government. This will make Turkey the first nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban.
In Afghanistan, the Afghan State Bank has ordered all banks to open under an emergency framework intended to solve the liquidity crisis. The long term fate of Afghani banks remains up in the air, however. The Taliban is unlikely to allow interest-based banks to operate as they have been doing for some time. A Sharia-compliant banking system will have to be designed to replace the traditional banking system now in place. The Taliban government has made it clear it wants monetary affairs to be governed by the Sharia laws.
After yesterday’s twin suicide bombings that killed 90+ people including 13 US troops, air operations have resumed, and the evacuation is again underway. The operation has reached its final phase with the United States planning to remain until 31 August if necessary. Many other Western nations have brought their operations to a close or will do so by the weekend. Canada, Spain and Germany have both ended evacuation flights. France will halt its operation today. As many nations wind down their respective operations, Turkey is in discussions with the Taliban over the future of Kabul airport once international forces depart. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his government’s talks have centered on Turkey running the airport. For the short term at least, Kabul’s airport needs to remain operational if Afghanistan’s new leaders are to have a functional relationship with the outside world. Turkish troops and equipment have been a part of NATO’s commitment.
In the United States, the Biden administration is contending with heavy blowback after yesterday’s suicide bombings. President Biden’s handling of the Afghan crisis has come under close scrutiny and received significant criticism from the US public. Last night after Biden addressed the nation he followed up by taking questions from the reporters on hand. Unfortunately, the president started off with a shocking admission: “Ladies and gentlemen, they gave me a list here. The first person I was instructed to call on was Kelly O’Donnell from NBC.” That statement ignited a firestorm on social media with many people wanting to know just who is calling the shots at the White House. Biden has long relied on a list of pre-selected reporters, however, yesterday’s admission, coming hours after the deaths of 13 US soldiers struck a decidedly sour note with some. Biden did state last night that the US is committed to completing the evacuation and promised ISIS-K will be targeted in the future.