A significant contingent of remaining US embassy staff is expected to leave the Kabul airport this weekend, according to a senior US official and a source directly familiar with the situation on the airport — a reflection of the changed reality on the ground in Afghanistan as the US evacuation mission draws near its end.
State Department officials had for months pledged to maintain a diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul, and while a formal decision to withdraw all US diplomats from Afghanistan has not been inked by the secretary of state, preparations are underway for that likely eventuality.
A small number of diplomats and civilians facilitating the evacuation may stay on until Aug. 31, the sources added, reflecting the White House and Pentagon’s insistence evacuations will continue until the end.
The group of US diplomats who are in Afghanistan now remained in the country primarily to work with military officials to run operations at the airport and process Afghans who are leaving the country. The majority of the US diplomats already departed earlier in the month when the US embassy in Kabul was evacuated and moved to the airport.
The Taliban have said that they want to see other countries, including the US, maintain a diplomatic presence in the country after Aug. 31.
Whether or not the Kabul airport will be able to remain up and running after Aug. 31 is a key factor that has played into the plans to pull out all US diplomats.
Earlier in the week a senior state department official said that the future of the airport and the future of the US diplomatic presence are “very much related,” noting that “you’d be hard pressed to find a country that would feel comfortable operating diplomatically in a country where there is not ready access to an airport or a seaport.”
“An airport is going to be important to not only a country like the United States but also our allies and partners,” they told reporters Wednesday.
While the US is working with the international community to keep the airport operational, right now there is no plan in place that would go into effect immediately when the US military leaves.