Countries around the world are rushing in the last hours before the deadline stipulated by both the US and the Taliban for the departure of all foreigners. Several countries have already announced that they will not be able to evacuate all personnel, mostly Afghan collaborators. As the situation in Afghanistan becomes clearer, international troops continue their evacuation with the intention of completing their withdrawal by 31 August, the deadline imposed by the Taliban.
The insurgents reject outright the proposal to extend the deadline and have banned Afghans from moving and staying in the vicinity of the airport. However, they say they will allow commercial flights to pass through after 31 August. Meanwhile, Afghanistan has been plunged into chaos following the complete shutdown, which has led to the closure of banks and shops. Women and government collaborators who have not been able to leave the country remain locked in their homes. Arriving at the airfield is an odyssey fraught with risks that most Afghans cannot bear.
Nearly 1,000 civilians are waiting at the Afghan capital's airport to fly to other countries before US forces leave the airfield for good, with the self-imposed deadline of 31 August looming ever closer. US and allied forces have rescued some 113,500 people in recent weeks, but tens of thousands of Afghans who wish to leave the country will have to remain there. What options will remain for those who cannot leave the country by 31 August? Left behind, with no options, are Afghans who have collaborated with the West and who live in Afghanistan's rural provinces. For them there will be only one option left: to flee by road and cross the Taliban-controlled border crossings.
Day by day the evacuations become more and more complicated, thousands of people crowd the airport entrance with the only hope of being able to leave the country, while the Taliban announced that only foreigners would be allowed access to the airport. The Taliban say they are prepared to take over the airport with the help of Turkey and Qatar, the only foreign forces that will operate the airport after the departure of NATO members. Meanwhile, countries around the world have had to bring forward plans to evacuate their nationals as the capital falls to the insurgents in a period of time that no nation or intelligence agency had predicted. History seems to be repeating itself in Afghanistan. Twenty years later, Afghanistan is once again facing the same challenges.
Since the insurgent group broke into Kabul, more than 113,000 Afghans have managed to flee the country in planes chartered by the United States and its allies, with the notable intervention of Spain. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still waiting in the vicinity of Kabul's international airport, hoping for a miracle as tensions escalate with the latest terrorist attacks, carried out by the Afghan branch of the Daesh Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), one of the most dangerous factions that fought against NATO forces in the last two decades, as well as against the Taliban against whom they have disputed territory, particularly in eastern Afghanistan.
The US has been on high alert since Thursday since an ISIS-K fighter detonated an explosives waistcoat at one of the airport's access gates, where thousands of people were crowding in the hope of boarding a US military flight. Since then, the Pentagon has said it has credible information about plans by radical groups to attack its soldiers, either using a car bomb, rockets or a suicide bomber.
This climate of threat has forced Washington to turn on its machinery. The US military leadership has informed President Joe Biden that it is "highly likely" that another attack will be carried out in Kabul in the next 24 to 36 hours. The president has described the situation on the ground as "extremely dangerous" because the risk of a repeat of a similar attack like the one that killed nearly 200 Afghans and 13 US servicemen is "high".
As if predicting what was to come, a new attack took place on Sunday after two more explosions near Kabul airport left at least six people dead, one caused by a US drone strike on a vehicle carrying suspected ISIS-K members and the other by a rocket hitting a house. So far, the Taliban have not reported on their actions following the airport attack, although they assured that they would arrest those responsible. However, a senior member of the Taliban's political bureau criticised the attacks by US forces on ISIS-K targets in Kabul, claiming that they are not part of the signed disengagement agreement.
Since taking Kabul, the Taliban have carried out a strong media campaign through which they have tried to send a message of calm to the public, as well as to the international community, showing a more moderate face. Many analysts agree that this is merely a strategy to gain international legitimacy and avoid being isolated again, as happened during the 1996-2001 Emirate, which was only recognised by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The worst predictions for Afghanistan indicate that despite the renewed image the Taliban want to present to the international community, the reality on the ground is very different, and that when the last foreign troops and personnel leave the country, darkness and terrorism will return.