What will happen to the U.S. embassy in Kabul?

When the U.S. authorities formally pulled its army presence from Afghanistan this month, it left behind a worthwhile piece of actual property. The U.S. embassy in Kabul, a sprawling 15-acre advanced of greater than a dozen buildings and annexes, constructed at an estimated building value of $806 million.

As the Taliban takes over, it’s bodily filling in the footprint of the earlier regime, together with taking over the presidential palace. The U.S. embassy, the centerpiece of the nation’s lengthy and tumultuous presence in Afghanistan for greater than 20 years, might equally change fingers. The State Division declined to remark.

This isn’t the first time the United States has packed up and left an embassy behind. In Somalia in 1991, escalating tensions led to the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu. “Free-wheeling militia violence” led to the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya, in 2014. Most memorably, American embassy officers crowded a rooftop staircase to board a helicopter and evacuate the embassy in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975. Photographs of the evacuation grew to become visible shorthand for the nation’s ill-fated army intervention.

[Photo: Courtesy of Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

For a lot of, the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam are onerous to ignore.The sight of helicopters ferrying U.S. personnel from the embassy in Kabul to close by Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport have been starkly reminiscent of the scene in Vietnam practically 50 years in the past. However the official U.S. stance is completely different. “This isn’t Saigon,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on August 15, arguing that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was began to take care of the perpetrators of the assaults of September 11, 2001, and that that mission has been successful.


The embassy started sending workers house in April, however the full evacuation in August nearly emptied the advanced. It’s an eventuality the State Division has deliberate for, with protocols, insurance policies, and even a useful guidebook for workers: “You’ve been evacuated. Now what?”

[Image: Courtesy of U.S. Department of State]

The long run is much less outlined for the buildings themselves. In accordance to specialists in embassy and diplomatic constructing design, at the least some measures are designed from the begin to guarantee the buildings don’t turn out to be targets.

“You possibly can by no means predict precisely what the political state of affairs will be 10 or 20 years after the completion of the constructing. So for that motive, there have to be some fundamental requirements of security and safety,” says Barbara A. Nadel, principal of Barbara Nadel Architect in New York and editor of a book on the design of embassies and different high-security buildings. Nadel says embassy design has developed in latest many years to prioritize its safety in the face of assaults and unrest, studying from assaults on embassies in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998, in addition to the assaults of September 11, 2001. These occasions, she says, have been “a wake-up name that these buildings, as a result of they’re symbolic, there are individuals who need to take them down.”

[Photo: Courtesy of Wiki Commons]

In Kabul, the U.S. embassy’s most important constructing was designed to resist such efforts. A considerable beige stucco construction with workplaces and residences, and fronted by a big textured shatter-resistant glass facade protecting thickly strengthened partitions, the constructing is fortified to stand up to bomb blasts, and is about again considerably from close by roads to present a bodily buffer from potential gunfire. Designed by Washington, D.C.-based Sorg Architects, the half-million-square-foot constructing opened in 2013, and value greater than $350 million to construct. In an electronic mail, architect Suman Sorg stated she was unable to touch upon the constructing’s design options and deferred questions to the State Division.

Such large-scale buildings are sometimes designed to be a long-term U.S. presence, in accordance to Michael Minton, an architect who beforehand spent 26 years in the State Division’s Bureau of Abroad Buildings Operations. “It’s onerous to program a facility for closure,” says Minton, now a senior affiliate at the structure agency DLR Group. “We design our services with resilience in thoughts, and we additionally design our services with future progress in thoughts.”

Even so, security issues generally lead to American officers leaving, for brief or lengthy intervals. Minton says that in these conditions, the buildings aren’t probably to sit idle. “There have been quite a few American missions abroad which have drawn down and are unoccupied, however they want to be maintained. So that you’ll have workers which can be there sustaining the services in order that they don’t freeze or flood, and in order that any upkeep points are taken care of,” he says. “The embassy will be taken care of, will be protected, and will be maintained.”

[Photo: Courtesy of Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images]

However even with a gradual evacuation, leaving an embassy behind is a sophisticated course of. A retired U.S. Navy SEAL with 20 years of expertise, who requested his identification not be revealed, says evacuations are merely “chaotic.” He helped plan an embassy evacuation in a North African nation throughout a short insurgent rebellion, and says it’s a mix of corralling personnel from inside the advanced and those that could also be residing outdoors its partitions, serving to the sometimes embedded CIA inside the embassy to destroy delicate paperwork and tools, and leaving something pointless behind.


An evacuated embassy might stay safe for a while. Most U.S. embassies are compartmentalized with safety methods controlling entry to wings, corridors, and rooms. In Kabul, the former Navy SEAL says, the Taliban are probably to transfer in, and these safety methods gained’t give you the option to stand up to efforts to break in.

“They will defeat these mechanisms over time and acquire entry to no matter they want to acquire entry to. However at the finish of the day, you’d assume the embassy of us would perceive that,” he says. “Simply because we’ve bought this safe and tremendous cool system, it’s going to get damaged into as a result of we’re not coming again.”

Different U.S. embassies have managed to see continued use even after being evacuated or going into disuse, in one type or one other. The previous U.S. embassy in Karachi, designed partly by modernist Richard Neutra and that includes clean barrel-vaulted roofs, was saved from demolition by Pakistani architectural preservationists after the embassy was relocated, and the constructing was finally vacated by the U.S. in 2011. In Tehran, the U.S. embassy constructing made infamous by the 1979 hostage disaster has lived on as a museum, maintained by a wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the years since diplomatic ties have been lower between the two nations and the U.S. deserted the constructing. Named the U.S. Den of Espionage Museum, that is one piece of embassy preservation U.S. officers are most likely not comfortable about.

It’s unclear what, if any, future plans are in place for the U.S. embassy in Kabul. After investing a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to construct the embassy advanced, the U.S. seems to be leaving a really costly and safe advanced of constructing in the fingers of a brand new occupying drive.