With US gone, what’s next for Afghanistan, Americans trapped there and the Taliban?

Afghanistan entered a new era following the exit of the last US forces on Monday.

After 20 years of war, the country is now under control of the Taliban, which completed its shockingly rapid takeover by capturing Kabul on Aug. 15.

The Biden administration must now determine how to deal with the Taliban government — which said Tuesday it wants to have good relations with other countries, including the US.

Since the end of July, the US evacuated more than 122,000 people out of Afghanistan, but up to 200 Americans and thousands of Afghan allies remain in the country, anxiously waiting to see what the new Taliban order will bring.

Here’s what could happen now that the US is out of Afghanistan:

What will the Taliban do next?

The extremist group wasted no time to take Kabul’s international airport after the last US soldiers flew out just before midnight local time on Monday, 3:29 p.m. Eastern Time.

A Taliban spokesman said crews were working on “repairing and cleaning” the airport — which was the site of frantic evacuations over the last few weeks, and on Tuesday remained littered with clothes, luggage and documents, as well as several CH-46 helicopters used by American forces.

A Taliban fighter takes a picture of a helicopter from the Afghan Air Forces near the hanger of the Kabul airport on August 31, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban is also in talks with governments like Qatar and Turkey for help in resuming civilian flight operations from there.

Keeping the airport open would keep Afghanistan connected to the rest of the world and is vital in allowing international aid to flow to the war-torn nation.

Still, it’s unclear whether any commercial airlines will be willing to offer service to and from Kabul.

What will happen to Americans and allies left behind?

The Biden administration has said it expects the Taliban to grant safe passage for Americans and others to leave Afghanistan, and the insurgents have pledged to let people with proper legal documents travel freely.

82nd Airborne Division soldiers prepare to board an aircraft leaving Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 30, 2021.
U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Taylor Crul/Handout via REUTERS

However, there are concerns that the militants will retaliate against the tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans left behind, including interpreters who worked with the US army, journalists and women’s rights advocates.

What will a Taliban rule look like?

When it last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban imposed draconian measures like banning TV, music and photography, and requiring women to wear the all-encompassing burqa.

The country changed dramatically after 2001, marking major improvements in education, healthcare and women’s rights.

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with posters of women vandalized in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 18, 2021.
A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with posters of women vandalized in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 18, 2021.
AFP via Getty Images

It now remains to be seen what form of Islamic rule the Taliban will force on the country of 38 million people.

Schools have reopened since the group took over, but Taliban officials have said boys and girls will study separately. On Tuesday, TV stations were still operating, albeit under a watchful eye, and women were out in headscarves, as they have been for the last 20 years, instead of in burqas.

What long-term issues does Afghanistan face?

Though millions of dollars in Western aid have flown through Afghanistan over the last 20 years, the country is on the brink of an economic crisis.

More than half of Afghans — or about 18 million people — survive on less than a dollar a day and require aid, experts say.

Afghans wait in long lines for hours to try to withdraw money, in front of a bank in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghans pack in long lines waiting to withdraw money at a bank in Kabul, Afghanistan after the Taliban limited weekly withdrawals to $200 on August 30, 2021.
AP Photo/Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi

Meanwhile, the country is also facing famine as the latest drought threatens food supplies. Half of all Afghan children under 5 already suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the United Nations.

“Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Ramiz Alakbarov, the local UN humanitarian coordinator told The Associated Press. 

What do future US-Taliban relations look like?

Some countries, including Britain, have said that no nation should recognize the Taliban as the official Afghan government.

The Biden administration said it will decide what to do in the future based on the Taliban’s actions. For now, it has pulled diplomats from Kabul.

82nd Airborne Division paratroopers board on a cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021.
82nd Airborne Division paratroopers board on a cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021.
Msgt. Alex Burnett/U.S. Army/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire

“Any engagement with a Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only – our vital national interests,” Biden said Monday.

The country’s economic challenges, however, could give the US and other Western nations leverage in attempting to force the Taliban to form an inclusive government, guarantee women’s rights and make good on its promise to allow free travel.

What about ISIS-K?

With the US gone, there are questions about if Washington will coordinate with the Taliban on the threat of ISIS-K, the Islamic State arm operating out of Afghanistan. It first cropped up in eastern Afghanistan in late 2014 and swiftly gained a reputation for extreme brutality.

The militant group — officially called Islamic State Khorasan after a historic name for the region — is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, which it views as insufficiently devout and treasonous for collaborating on a peace deal with the US. 

ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members and scores of Afghan civilians. The US carried out at least two drone strikes on the group since then in retaliation.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, on Monday estimated that there are 2,000 “hardcore ISIS fighters in Afghanistan now.”

“I do believe the Taliban is going to have their hands full with ISIS-K,” he said.

With Post wires

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