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.
12 US soldiers have been killed and at least 15 wounded in a pair of suicide attacks outside of the gate at Kabul Airport earlier today. Eleven of the dead were US Marines and the twelfth one a US Navy corpsman. The attacks were labeled as ‘complex’ by the Pentagon and they would have had to be, considering they took place within a stone’s throw from the airport gate according to earlier reports. Early indications are leading US sources to believe the attack was conducted by ISIS-K, an offshoot of the Islamic State and rivals of the Taliban. There have been warnings over the past week that ISIS-K could pose a threat to the operations now underway at the airport. Although Kabul and much of Afghanistan have been overtaken by the Taliban, a vacuum continues to exist in many respects around the country. Security is one area in particular, as we’ve seen today.
Last week, President Biden said that his administration has made it clear to the Taliban that any attack on US forces at the airport in Kabul, or disruption of operations at the airport will be ‘met with a swift and forceful response.’ Right now, the world is waiting to see how the United States and its president respond.
Author’s Note: Looks like the updates are back now, for a little while at least.
Leaders of the G7 nations are set to meet today via video conference to discuss the tumult in Afghanistan and the challenges facing the West now with that nation under Taliban control. According to sources, one goal of the conference will be to reach a consensus on the matter of whether to recognize the Taliban government or apply sanctions on it. Yet the most crucial matter to be discussed will be the upcoming 31 August deadline that had been set by the United States for the withdrawal of military forces. France, Germany and Great Britain have publicly talked about a need to extend that deadline in order to make certain an orderly exit from Afghanistan occurs. These nations are already applying pressure on the Biden administration on the matter and is expected to continue in the upcoming conference. The Taliban consider the withdrawal date to be a red line and have warned against the prospect of the US extending the deadline. Still, the Biden administration is in talks behind the scenes with the Taliban. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said the administration is “engaging with the Taliban, consulting with the Taliban on every aspect of what’s happening in Kabul right now.”
The Taliban hasn’t been amenable to the prospect of an extended deadline date and are warning of consequences if the West attempts to do so. “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on Aug. 31 they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it, that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with Sky News.
This is where the carrot and stick approach might come in handy for the G7. They could extend an offer of recognition to the Taliban in exchange for extending the deadline and keeping Kabul’s airport open for evacuation flights. On the flip side there would be an implied threat of sanctions in the event the 31 August date remains inflexible.
Concerns of a new refugee crisis are rising in Europe after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Six years after the 2015 migrant crisis that came dangerously close to splintering the EU, the continent is faced with the prospect of another one not far off. European leaders are keen to avoid a repeat of 2015, although the stars appear to be lining up in a similar fashion now. The Syrian Civil War was the impetus for the large influx of asylum-seeking refugees to Europe. With Taliban control of Afghanistan now complete and atrocities already beginning there, anxiety is growing on the continent. The message European governments want to convey to fleeing Afghans who have Europe in mind is: if you are determined to leave, go to neighboring countries, don’t attempt to come here. This applies to all Afghans except for those who helped Western military forces during the 20-year war.
Earlier this week, as Afghanistan descended into deeper chaos, European Union officials told interior ministers that the key to avoiding a new refugee crisis is to prevent a humanitarian disaster from occurring. Without a large amount of humanitarian aid, Afghans will start moving in large numbers. Meanwhile, Austria has suggested setting up deportation centers in the nations neighboring Afghanistan to speed up the deportation process for those who are denied asylum.
In Southern Europe, Greece has made it very clear it does not want to see a repeat of the 2015 crisis that saw a number of its islands in the Aegean Sea become the entry point to Europe for hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other Arab refugees. Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has said Greece won’t accept being the “gateway for irregular flows into the EU,” and that the Greek government considers Turkey to be a safe place for Afghans. Ankara has differing thoughts on that, not surprisingly. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned in a speech Thursday that “Turkey has no duty, responsibility or obligation to be Europe’s refugee warehouse.”
As European Union nations bicker and Brussels attempts to organize itself, Great Britain has declared it will welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees by the end of the year and has plans to resettle 20,000 more over the next three years.