Taliban bids farewell as US leaves Afghanistan with warning to 'occupiers'

The militant group took control of Kabul airport as the last American forces left on Monday night

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The Taliban will seek good relations with the US, the group’s spokesman said from Kabul airport on Tuesday, hours after the last American troops were flown out of the country.

Carrying his rifle by his side, Maj Gen Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, became the last US soldier to board the final flight out of Afghanistan a minute before midnight on Monday, ending the country’s 20-year presence.

On Tuesday morning, senior Taliban officials walked across the tarmac of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, the last part of Afghanistan held by the US, to mark their return to power.

“We can’t control our emotions,” Bilal Karimi, a member of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission, said by phone from the airport.

“We have defeated the world’s most powerful country and gained our independence.”

The Taliban's Badri 313 special forces unit posed for pictures, brandishing US rifles and flying the group's white flag.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addressed a crowd of journalists from the site of a chaotic scramble to transport tens of thousands of foreign citizens and Afghan allies out of the country before the August 31 deadline for US troops to depart.

Mujahid struck a conciliatory tone towards the departing US but warned others to take note of what has happened in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] wants a good and diplomatic relationship with the Americans,” he said.

“We highlight to every occupier that whoever sees Afghanistan with an evil eye will face the same fate as the Americans have faced.

“We’ve never given up to pressure or force and our nation has always sought freedom.”

The US invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks to crush Al Qaeda and prevent Afghanistan from being used as another launch pad for further attacks on the West.

While the US succeeded in quickly driving the Taliban from power, it never halted the bloody insurgency that the group continued to wage for two decades against foreign soldiers and the new Afghan government supported by the international community.

There have been at least 3,502 international soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001, at least 66,000 Afghan soldiers and security service personnel, and at least 44,245 civilians. Seventy-two journalists have died, and so have at least 444 aid workers.

At least 51,000 Taliban and other opposition fighters have also been killed.

As the US began to withdraw from Afghanistan after a deal with the Taliban signed in Doha in 2020, the insurgency gained momentum and quickly overran the government.

Today, the Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it ever did during its previous rule from 1996 to 2001, a period marked by brutal repression. The world is now watching the group closely and many officials have said that destroying hard-won gains for women, minorities and free speech is a red line — although it is unclear what the West can do to enforce their demands.

“The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our position is any legitimacy and support will have to be earned,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday.

Thousands of Afghans have already fled the country, either by getting aboard international evacuation flights or by crossing the borders to Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere.

“There's a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” said Gen Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we'd stayed another 10 days, we wouldn't have gotten everybody out.”

As the US troops departed, they destroyed more than 70 aircraft, dozens of armoured vehicles and disabled the C-Ram air defences that had thwarted at least five ISIS rocket attacks on the eve of the US departure.

Dozens of aircraft and military helicopters stood empty at Kabul airport as the Taliban arrived. Cockpit windows had been smashed, and aircraft tyres shot out. Gen McKenzie said they had been demilitarised and rendered useless.

In a statement, US President Joe Biden thanked the military “now our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended”.

Panjshir fighting

But despite the withdrawal of international forces, there were signs that violence in Afghanistan was far from over.

Taliban forces clashed with militia fighters in the Panjshir valley north of the capital Kabul on Monday night, with at least seven killed, two members of the main anti-Taliban opposition group said on Tuesday.

Since the fall of Kabul on August 15, Panjshir has been the only province to hold out against the Taliban, although there has also been fighting in neighbouring Baghlan province between the Taliban and local militia forces.

Fahim Dashti, a spokesman for the National Resistance Forces, a group loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said fighting occurred on the western entrance to the valley when the Taliban attacked NRF positions.

He said the attack — which may have been a probe to test the valley's defences — was repulsed, with eight Taliban killed and a similar number wounded, while two members of the NRF forces were wounded.

“Last night, the Taliban attacked Panjshir, but were defeated with seven dead and several wounded,” Bismillah Mohammadi, a member of the resistance movement who served as a minister under exiled President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter.

Updated: August 31st 2021, 3:18 PM
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