Turkey has said it could provide technical support to the Taliban to operate Hamid Karzai International Airport following exit of foreign troops, but for now, the future of the transport hub remains unclear.

Taliban stands guard in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport after US withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021.
Taliban stands guard in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport after US withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021. (AP)

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

The symbolism of the airport was underlined on Tuesday when the Taliban's top spokesperson stood on its runway and declared victory over the United States. 

But what happens next remains unclear. 

We look at the future of Hamid Karzai International Airport:

Who will run security?

Attacks in the past week have shown the airport is a target for terrorists, so security is the primary concern.

The United States took control of the airport to manage the evacuation of tens of thousands of people with help from other countries, coming under attack by the Daesh-K. Daesh-Khorasan is the terror group's chapter that operates primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Turkey had offered to run security following the withdrawal of foreign troops.

"We could continue this operational task at the airport there. If it is agreed in the terms and an agreement is reached in this direction, we will continue to provide this service there," said Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on Thursday.

But the Taliban repeatedly said they would not accept any foreign military presence 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 spokesperson Bilal Karimi said on Monday.

However, Michael Kugelman, 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 said.

"There are all kinds of alarm bells that should be sounding 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 the Gulf state was 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 of the airport," he said.

READ MORE: How Turkey emerged as a key player to run the Kabul airport

Who will operate logistics?

As far as the United States is concerned, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Friday that it was "essentially giving the airport back to the Afghan people."

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

Like with security, there were discussions with Turkey over running logistics.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was still assessing the group's offer, but with the Taliban insisting on controlling security, Erdogan appeared to drop the idea.

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

The Turkish government approaches the messages from Taliban leaders with "cautious optimism for now," said Erdogan, adding that Ankara continues to be in "close dialogue" with all parties in the country.

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 condition is the airport in?

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

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.

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

Will commercial flights restart?

The Taliban have insisted they want to keep the civilian airport open, but without guarantees over security, commercial airlines simply won't operate out of Kabul.

"You're looking at a perfect storm of risks for airlines," Kugelman said.

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 in place," Kugelman added.

But it is likely to take time.

Will Afghans be allowed to leave the country?

The Taliban have 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.

However, many are sceptical about the Taliban's claims that they will not seek revenge against those who worked for the collapsed government or foreign forces.

And Kugelman said he believed the Afghans who did not manage to be evacuated before August 31 may now be too afraid to travel to the airport.

"I think that for many of them who already have reason to fear the Taliban, the prospect of trying to escape the country by going to an airport controlled by the Taliban will be a very unpalatable thought."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies