US says diplomatic presence in Kabul requires 'functioning, secure airport'

After Taliban reject Turkey's proposal to remain its troops to guard and run the airport following US departure


Reuters June 12, 2021
An aerial view of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, previously known as Kabul International Airport, in Afghanistan, February 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL:

The United States believes keeping an international diplomatic presence in Kabul requires a "functioning, secure" airport, a State Department spokesperson said on Friday, suggesting that embassies could be forced to close without one.

The statement came a day after a Taliban spokesperson effectively rejected Turkey's proposal that its troops remain to guard and run the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the departure of the rest of the US-led foreign force.

Read: US eyes international effort to help secure Kabul airport after withdrawal

The Taliban's position poses serious questions for the United States, other countries and international organisations with missions in Kabul about how to evacuate personnel from landlocked Afghanistan should fighting threaten the capital.

"We underscore that a functioning, secure airport is essential to any international diplomatic presence and will benefit Afghan travelers and the Afghan economy," the State Department spokesperson said in response to the Taliban statement.

The spokesperson declined to elaborate. But their comment appeared to be a message to the Islamist Taliban that unless countries with embassies in Kabul feel that their diplomats can safely access a functioning airport, they could close their missions.

US officials have said they believe the insurgents seek international legitimacy and an end to their pariah status.

Australia shuttered its embassy in Kabul last month because of security concerns. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week vowed to keep the US embassy open.

Read more: Turkey offers to run Kabul airport after NATO's Afghan withdrawal

President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw from America's longest war, stalled peace talks and unrelenting violence are fueling fears that Afghanistan is headed into an all-out civil war that could return the Taliban to power.

Biden is expected to discuss the issue when he holds talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels on Monday.

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