All US troops have to leave Afghanistan by Tuesday, August 31, marking the moment Kabul Airport will fall to the Taliban alongside much of the country.
US president Joe Biden set this deadline and the Taliban have now threatened serious “consequences” if the American military stays beyond this cut-off point.
European nations now have to abide by this tight deadline too, to avoid creating more tension with the militants.
The troops have been maintaining a sense of order for those leaving the country – although there’s already been a bombing outside Kabul airport.
It was unclear how many casualties have resulted from the blasts, but reports suggest the death toll is in double figures.
So what will happen when the troops leave?
What about the Afghanistan evacuees who miss the deadline?
As of Wednesday, there were reportedly at least 4,000 people still in Afghanistan who have a right to settle in the UK but are yet to be evacuated along with 1,000 British troops.
After August 31, the UK is going to enter phase 2 of its evacuation efforts by allowing Afghans safe passage to a third country, such as Pakistan, before resettling in Britain.
The UK is hoping to secure this by negotiating with the British embassy in Islamabad and by working with the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR.
The Taliban has so far said it will allow such NGOs to continue working in Afghanistan – but the militants do not want all Afghans to leave, meaning the remaining evacuees will have to attempt perilous journeys out of the country.
As a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said: “The vast majority of Afghans are not able to leave the country through regular channels. As of today, those who may be in danger have no clear way out.”
Yet, on Thursday prime minister Boris Johnson has claimed the “overwhelming majority” of eligible people had already been evacuated.
He said time left to get the rest of the eligible people out is “quite short” but promised “we’ll do everything we can to get everybody else”.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has noted that the UK would utilise the deadline for evacuating people right up until the very last minute of the month with the military’s assistance, before phase 2 would be rolled out.
France explained it would carry on with evacuations but probably end them in the upcoming hours or days while German chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would try to help Afghans after the deadline expired.
The US will be focusing on evacuating its own troops from Afghanistan in the two days leading up to the deadline.
But US secretary of state Antony Blinken said there was no deadline for the effort to help those who wanted to leave outside of the military. He said that would continue for “as long as it takes”.
What will happen to the Afghans who have escaped overseas?
Even before the Taliban took over, more than half a million people had been forced to flee their homes this year due to fighting.
An estimated 3.5 million Afghans are reportedly displaced within the country.
Approximately 2.2 million refugees and asylum seekers were looking for sanctuary in Afghanistan’s neighbouring nations last year.
Iran has provided emergency tents for refugees along its border with Afghanistan, but intends to send Afghans back “once conditions improve”. Pakistan promised to seal its border after the Taliban took over although one crossing is said to still be open for those with valid documents, while Tajikistan is prepared to take 100,000 refugees.
The UK has taken 20,000 over the long term, but only 5,000 will be able to settle in the first year with a priority given to those in particular danger.
The US has not announced exactly how many Afghans it will take but it has authorised £367 million ($500 million) for those “at risk” from the crisis.
Canada will resettle 20,000 while Australia will offer 3,000 places. The EU is desperate to avoid repeating the 2015 migrant crisis, and many member states have not specified how many refugees they might take.
Who will be in control in the Afghan government?
The departure of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani signalled the Taliban’s victory over Afghanistan on August 15.
Although he had been backed by the western allies, Ghani is no longer recognised by the US as a figure of authority in Afghanistan after he fled.
In his absence, the Taliban have been in power-sharing discussions about the formation of a new government.
Although the militants now control almost the entire nation, the dissident group, the National Resistance Front, are hoping to take part in negotiations about the future of Afghanistan.
The Taliban also have terror threats from Isis, another branch of Islamic militants who do not support the way the Taliban negotiated with the US in order to gain control of Afghanistan.
To complicate matters further, the Taliban are trying to present themselves as a more moderate force which is “inclusive” and “Islamic” than it was back in the 90s. While many are deeply sceptical about the reality of Taliban rule, it’s thought the militants are trying to keep up appearances so the west do not retract their humanitarian aid.
What will the US and its allies do next?
Downing Street has hinted that it will try to use “levers” to make sure the Taliban sticks to its promises from the deal it struck with the Trump administration last year.
This includes behaving “constructively” at Kabul airport – which they are said to have done to a degree – and creating a broad-based inclusive government.
If this does not happen – and Raab claims trust with the Taliban is at “rock bottom” – then the allies will withdraw their funds, which could trigger the economic collapse of Afghanistan.
He added that the international community will be able to cut off direct aid or threaten sanctions if people are not allowed to leave during phase 2 of the evacuation plan.
Raab told Times Radio: “If the Taliban leadership, as they were saying overnight, want to avoid the brain drain, they’re not going to be able to do that by coercively blocking the border.
“You’ll just see a larger flow of refugees going out and they’ll have to be processed.
“They’re not going to be able to avoid the refugee crisis by just a few roadblocks, they’re not going to be able to hermetically seal the Afghan border, which is rugged and wide-ranging.
“If they’re really serious about avoiding the brain drain, which was the language that the Taliban spokesperson said, they’re going to have to find a way to bring in other factions to be more inclusive and to be more moderate compared with the previous Taliban.”