The Manila Times
TALIBAN CELEBRATE US DEFEAT
KABUL: The Taliban joyously fired guns into the air and offered words of reconciliation on Tuesday as they celebrated defeating the United States and returning to power after two decades of war that devastated Afghanistan.
The last of 6,000 US troops who oversaw a desperate evacuation effort flew out of Kabul airport on Monday night, ending the war that has diminished the United States’ status as a superpower.
Taliban fighters quickly swept into the airport and fired weapons into the sky in jubilation, an astonishing return after US forces invaded in 2001 and toppled the hard-line Islamists for supporting al-Qaeda.
“Congratulations to Afghanistan . . . this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later from the runway of the airport. Mujahid said the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders.”
However, the Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant and open brand of rule compared with their first stint in power and Mujahid continued that theme.
Taliban fighters watched the last US planes disappear into the sky over Afghanistan around midnight on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) and then fired their guns into the air, celebrating victory after a 20-year insurgency that drove the world’s most powerful military out of one of the poorest countries.
The departure of the US cargo planes marked the end of a massive airlift in which tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan, fearful of the return of Taliban rule after the militants took over most of the country and rolled into the capital earlier this month.
“The last five aircraft have left, it’s over!” said Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter stationed at Kabul’s international airport. “I cannot express my happiness in words . . . . Our 20 years of sacrifice worked.”
In Washington, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, announced the completion of America’s longest war and the evacuation effort, saying the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3:29 p.m. (6:59 p.m. in Manila) — one minute before midnight Monday in Kabul.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to
get out,” he said.
With its last troops gone, the United States ended its 20-year war with the Taliban back in power. Many Afghans remain fearful of their rule or of further instability and there have been sporadic reports of killings and other abuses in areas under Taliban control despite the group’s pledges to restore peace and security.
“American soldiers left the Kabul airport and our nation got its full independence,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said early Tuesday.
The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack on the United
States, which al-Qaeda orchestrated while sheltering under Taliban rule.
The invasion drove the Taliban from power in a matter of weeks and scattered Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders.
The US and its allies launched an ambitious effort to rebuild Afghanistan after decades of war, investing billions of dollars in a Western-style government and security forces.
Women, who had been largely confined to their homes under the Taliban’s hard-line rule, benefitted from access to education and came to assume prominent roles in public life.