The Taliban now controls Kabul airport. How will it run it?

The Taliban wants Turkey to operate the airport as it controls security, but the next steps to revive the transport hub are still unclear.

Taliban fighters stand guard inside Hamid Karzai International Airport after the US withdrawal [Kathy Gannon/AP]

With the Taliban in control of Kabul’s airport after the United States completed its withdrawal, the focus will now shift from the chaotic Western evacuation operation of the past two weeks to the group’s plans for the transport hub.

The airport’s symbolism was underlined on Tuesday when the Taliban’s top spokesman stood on its runway and declared victory over the US. But what happens next remains unclear.

Here is a look at the future of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Who will run security?

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera the group is now busy with securing and operating the site, indicating that they were in talks with Qatar and Turkey about the facility’s future.

The group has repeatedly said they would not accept any foreign military presence in the country after August 31.

“Our fighters and special forces are capable of controlling the airport and we do not need anyone’s help for the security and administrative control of the Kabul airport,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP on Monday.

However, Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, said a foreign security presence would be necessary if airlines were to return, and that a deal could yet be struck.

“You’re looking at a very volatile environment security-wise,” he told AFP.

“There are all kinds of alarm bells … for commercial airlines that I imagine would not be comfortable getting into the airport.”

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the Financial Times newspaper his country is urging the Taliban to accept foreign help.

“What we are trying to explain to them is that airport safety and security requires a lot more than securing the perimeters,” he said.

Who will run the airport’s logistics?

As far as the US is concerned, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that it was “essentially giving the airport back to the Afghan people”.

In recent weeks, NATO played a key role, with its civilian personnel taking care of air traffic control, fuel supplies and communications.

The Taliban had asked Turkey to handle logistics while they maintain control of security and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was still assessing the offer.

However, with the Taliban insisting on full control of security, Erdogan appeared less enthusiastic.

“Let’s say you took over the security but how would we explain to the world if another bloodbath takes place there?” he said.

Running and maintaining an airport is complex and requires expertise.

With thousands of skilled workers believed to have fled the country – despite Taliban pleas for them to stay – questions remain over whether there will be enough trained workers left in the Afghan capital.

Which airlines are allowed?

It was not immediately clear which airlines would agree to fly in and out of Kabul.

The Taliban insists it wants to keep the civilian airport open, but without guarantees over security, commercial airlines simply will not go.

A key incentive to operate a functional airport would be the boost it would give to the Taliban’s international image.

“If the Taliban’s looking to get recognition and legitimacy from governments around the world, then it has to have a working, safe, trusted airport,” Kugelman said.

But it is likely to take time.

The US Federal Aviation Administration says Kabul airport no longer has air traffic control services after the withdrawal of the US military, adding that US civilian aircraft were prohibited from flying in Afghanistan’s airspace unless they obtain prior permission.

Can people still leave Afghanistan?

The Taliban has insisted Afghans will be able to come and go.

The group’s deputy chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, said those with passports and visas can go abroad “in a dignified manner and with peace of mind” after commercial flights open.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a new team would be established for the next phase of diplomatic work on Afghanistan from Doha.

He added that the US will continue its work to help Americans and Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan and “under 200” Americans remained in the country, but likely closer to 100.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said the world would hold the Taliban responsible for their pledge to provide safe passage for those who want to leave Afghanistan.

As for dealing with the movement, Blinken said that his country will work with any future Afghan government based on its actions.

Many thousands of Afghans who worked with foreign missions or the US-backed government over the years and fear retribution also want to get out.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday urging the Taliban to honour a commitment to let people leave Afghanistan in the days ahead and to allow humanitarian access to UN and other aid agencies.

What state is the airport in?

Reporting from Kabul airport, Al Jazeera’s Younis Ayat Yaseen said it was in disarray, with the Taliban saying that the US military was responsible for the destruction left behind.

“It might take a long time to bring the airport back to order and make its facilities functional again,” said Yaseen.

Exclusive Al Jazeera Arabic footage out of Kabul airport showed the airport’s various halls trashed, with windows, seating areas and ATM machines broken.

A pilot told AFP the terminal building was trashed by passengers during the chaos of the early days of the Taliban takeover.

As well as the passenger halls, critical infrastructure has been destroyed, including air traffic control terminals, which will need to be replaced for commercial flights to run again.

US officials said the airport is in bad condition, with much of its basic infrastructure degraded or destroyed.

On the plus side, the two-week mass evacuation campaign has shown that the airport’s runways are operational, if in poor condition.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies