210827 Kabul
A person wounded in a bomb blast outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, arrives at a hospital in Kabul. Image Credit: New York Times

It was a horrific end to a story that began 20 years ago. In the last few days of its military presence in Afghanistan, the US suffered its second biggest single-day loss of life since it invaded the country in 2001. Thirteen American troops — and at least 72 Afghans — were killed in the criminal atrocities carried out by Daesh’s Afghan affiliate.

The two suicide bombings, minutes apart, were indiscriminate, and aimed at causing maximum devastation among an already devastated people. Daesh is trying to capitalise on the security vacuum that has been created with the scandalously quick collapse of the Afghan army and government, and more attacks could follow.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans want to leave the country, many of them out of fear for their safety under the new Taliban regime. Given the past record of the group, most Afghans trying to get on the last planes leaving Kabul airport don’t feel safe anymore.

The US seems to have had an understanding with the Taliban that after the withdrawal, terrorist groups like Al Qaida and Daesh would not be allowed to use Afghan soil to attack US interests. But this horrific attack flies in the face of such an understanding. It is clear that despite years of US drone strikes, Daesh retains the ability to launch horrific attacks that lead to mass slaughter.

American forces are in a race against time to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by an August 31 deadline agreed by President Joe Biden.

The Taliban have threatened that they cannot allow coalition forces to extend that deadline. Biden has said that the initial objectives of the Afghan mission have been achieved — Al Qaida militants have mostly been destroyed, and no large scale attack on the US has happened since 9/11.

The US will now need to come out with a strategy of dealing with the Daesh threat in Afghanistan — but this time without actually being in the country. Biden has tasked his military with coming up with a plan of attack on Daesh but, overall, the US seems to be hoping that the Taliban will destroy Daesh in Afghanistan, at least for their own sake as Daesh is also their enemy.

The Taliban have said they will not let the country be used by terrorists, but that assertion is likely to be tested. Meanwhile, spare a thought for the thousands of Afghans whose lives have so abruptly been turned upside down since the sudden US withdrawal.