Merkel says Kabul airport of ‘existential importance’

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday said keeping Kabul airport open was of “existential importance”, as Western nations now consider how to get more people out of Afghanistan following the end of US-led evacuation flights.

Taliban fighters celebrated with gunfire hours after the last US forces abandoned Kabul, closing a frenzied airlift operation that saw more than 123,000 foreign nationals and Afghans flee.

Merkel said thousands of Afghans who worked with German forces in recent years and other vulnerable people were still inside the country looking for a way out.

The success of efforts to help them leave by land or air “stands and falls with the willingness of the Taliban to even make these departures possible”, Merkel told a press conference in Berlin Tuesday.

“The airport is of existential importance for Afghanistan because without it no medical or humanitarian aid can get there either, which means it’s also of the utmost importance for the work of the United Nations,” she said.

Talks are ongoing as to who will now run Kabul airport.

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

The Taliban have asked Turkey to handle logistics while they maintain control of security, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted that offer.

Erdogan cool to Taliban securing Kabul airport

Merkel said Germany stood ready to provide technical assistance to keep the airport operational.

She added that talks were ongoing with Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries to organise overland evacuations.

“The neighbouring states are certainly still somewhat reluctant, but we will continue to work on it,” she said.