Celebratory gunfire rang out in Kabul in the early hours of Tuesday to mark the moment, which came after the fraught final days of a frantic mission to evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans who had helped the US-led war effort — and which left scores of Afghans and 13 US servicemembers dead in a suicide bombing last week.
That attack — claimed by the Islamic State’s Afghan offshoot — gave edgy urgency to the final days of the US-led effort to allow those seeking to flee Taliban rule out of the country.
Taliban symbolically walk across Kabul airport runway
Taliban leaders on Tuesday symbolically walked across the runway of Kabul international airport to mark their victory in Afghanistan as the US forces completed the withdrawal process. The group that regained control over the country, a fortnight ago, also said that they “want good diplomatic relations with the US.”
“This victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said during the celebration, according to an AFP report. “The world should have learned their lesson and this is the enjoyable moment of victory,” Mujahid also said from the runway.
Taliban Badri special force fighters secure the airport in Kabul
GENERAL MCKENZIE ANNOUNCES WITHDRAWAL
The withdrawal came before the end of August 31, the actual deadline set by President Joe Biden to call time on America’s longest war.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans,” McKenzie told reporters in a surprise Pentagon news briefing.
“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.”
“It’s a mission that brought Osama bin Laden to a just end, along with many of his al Qaeda co-conspirators. And it was not a cheap mission. The cost was 2,461 U.S. service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured,” he continued.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” said McKenzie, noting, however, that all American service members were evacuated “with 100 percent certainty.” He estimated that American citizens remaining in Afghanistan numbered “in the very low hundreds.”
The final flight left at 1929 GMT Monday – just before the start of Tuesday in Kabul, he said.
The return to power a fortnight ago of the Taliban movement, which was toppled in 2001 when the United States invaded in retaliation for the September 11 attacks, triggered a massive exodus of people who fear a new version of hardline Islamist rule.
The evacuation flights have taken more than 123,000 people out of Kabul airport, according to McKenzie.
The regional Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) group, rivals of the Taliban, posed the biggest threat to the withdrawal, after carrying out a suicide bombing outside the airport last week that claimed more than 100 lives, including those of 13 US troops.
On Monday, they claimed to have fired six rockets at the airport. A Taliban official said the attack was intercepted by the airport’s missile defence systems.
Before the US withdrawal was confirmed, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution requiring the Taliban to honor their commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan in the days ahead, and to grant access to the UN and other aid agencies, but did not create a “safe zone” in Kabul.