The chaotic airport is currently the locus of unprecedented chaos (not to mention a makeshift, and temporary, US embassy), but Afghanistan's new rulers, the Taliban, are already looking beyond Aug 31 when the US is scheduled to evacuate its domestic presence, and according to Reuters they have asked Turkey for "technical help" to run the Kabul airport even as they demand that Ankara's military also withdraw fully by the end-August deadline.
The conditional request by the Islamist Taliban leaves Ankara - a current NATO member - with a difficult decision over whether to accept a hazardous job, a Reuters source said.
The mainly Muslim Turkey was part of a NATO mission in Afghanistan and still has hundreds of troops at Kabul airport. The officials say they are ready to withdraw at short notice. But President Tayyip Erdogan's government has said for months that it could keep a presence at the airport if requested.
"The Taliban have made a request for technical support in running Kabul airport," a senior Turkish official confirmed, adding however that the Taliban demand for all Turkish troops to leave would complicate any prospective mission. After the Taliban seized control of the country Turkey offered technical and security assistance at the airport.
"Ensuring the safety of workers without the Turkish Armed Forces is a risky job," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Talks with the Taliban on the issue were ongoing and, in the meantime, preparations for a troop withdrawal had been completed, he said.
Reuters notes that it was unclear whether Turkey would agree to give technical assistance if its troops were not there to provide security. Another Turkish official said a final decision would be made by the Aug. 31 deadline for foreign forces to leave the country and end a 20-year military involvement in Afghanistan.
Keeping the airport open after foreign forces hand over control is vital not just for Afghanistan to stay connected to the world but also to maintain aid supplies and operations. "It's going to be a critical lifeline for the humanitarian action in Afghanistan," Mary Ellen McGroarty, World Food Programme director in Afghanistan, said last week.
That said, even if the Taliban manage to keep the airport open - it's not immediately clear just how vibrant the Afghani tourism industry will be for the foreseeable future - the country faces a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, not to mention capital controls, economic collapse, hyperinflation, and a defunct currency. Since Turkey has experience with all of these, maybe Erdogan should just take over as lead economic advisor to the country.