All eyes are on Kabul International Airport, 24 hours before the final withdrawal from Afghanistan, countries all over the world are rushing the last hours before the deadline stipulated by the Taliban for the departure of foreigners. Day by day, evacuations are becoming more and more complicated, as thousands of people crowd the airport entrance with the only hope of being able to leave the country.
As tensions escalate following Thursday's attack, when a suicide bomber from the Afghan branch of Daesh, wearing a waistcoat containing 11 kilograms of explosives, blew himself up at a checkpoint at Kabul airport, killing at least 170 people, including 13 marines, evacuations are becoming more difficult to comply with the deal to withdraw from Afghanistan by 31 August.
Washington had already warned of the risk of an imminent attack and asked its citizens and Afghans to stay away from the compound, but they seem to have predicted what was going to happen. On Sunday, according to Afghan media, a missile hit a house in the Khawja Bughra neighbourhood north of the airport, killing several civilians, including three children. Shortly afterwards, a US military spokesman said its aircraft had destroyed an Islamic State car bomb headed for the airfield. It is unclear whether this was the same incident.
After the withdrawal of the troops, the programme of drone strikes, one of Washington's time-tested strategies that allows it to avoid deploying troops on the ground, is up in the air. The emirate's authorities, who have suffered from drones for 20 years, expressed their displeasure on Friday after a missile was launched against a Daesh base in Nangarhar as a violation of national sovereignty.
So far, the Taliban have not reported on their actions in the aftermath, although they say they would arrest those responsible. Since the Taliban and the US signed an agreement in Doha last year in which the Americans pledged to withdraw their troops from the country as long as the Islamists agreed to honour a political peace agreement and not allow Afghanistan to serve as a base for terrorist groups to attack the US or other nations, it seems increasingly difficult to fulfil.
Meanwhile, the punitive action comes after President Joe Biden promised to hunt down the perpetrators of the Kabul bombing. Amid a heavy silence interrupted only by the weeping of family members, Joe Biden received the remains of the 13 US servicemen killed in Kabul on Sunday, a difficult ceremony for a president heavily criticised for his handling of the Afghan crisis. Such is the consternation on American soil that there are already Republican critics urging Biden to resign or face impeachment. His commitment to multilateralism after four years of Trump-era isolationism seems to be taking its toll, while the administration is struggling to cope with the flood of Afghan refugee applications.
The situation at Kabul airport is turning into a deadly race against time, creating a situation that has contributed to widespread desperation around Hamid Karzai International Airport to escape the Taliban, who intend to take full control of the airport from 1 September. Meanwhile, 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 announced that they will not be able to evacuate all personnel, mostly Afghan collaborators.
However, some 100 governments from around the world have confirmed in a joint statement that they have received assurances from the Taliban that Afghan citizens wishing to leave the country will be given safe passage beyond the 31 August deadline for the withdrawal of international troops and their evacuation operation. This commitment appears in a joint statement distributed by the State Department in Washington and signed by 95 nations, including Spain, as well as the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The group said it had received "assurances" from the Taliban that nationals of all these countries, as well as Afghans who have worked with them, can travel safely.
The worst predictions for Afghanistan appear to be coming true. Despite the renewed image the Taliban want to present to the international community, the reality on the ground is very different, and it seems likely that when the last foreign troops and personnel leave the country, darkness and terrorism will return.