Taliban fireworks and gunfire mark one year since last US troops left Afghanistan

Commanders, fighters and supporters stage celebrations across the country

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Celebrating one year to the day since the last US troops left Afghanistan, the Taliban were on Wednesday celebrating by flying their white flag, shooting into the air and setting off fireworks.

The boom of colourful fireworks rang out across Kabul from Wazir Akbar Khan Hill on Tuesday night, later accompanied by the pop of gunfire and blast of anti-aircraft weaponry, as Taliban fighters and supporters marked a year in control of the country.

Some residents in the capital were initially alarmed at the sounds, saying they were not made aware of the fireworks beforehand. Though aerial shooting is common in Afghanistan — supporters of former resistance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud would take to the streets and fire into the air on September 9 every year to mark his death — a night-time salvo was rarer in the past.

Footage from the latest scene showed Taliban officials, including government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, joining in the festivities.

Elsewhere in the capital, supporters of the Taliban were pictured slaughtering sheep as an offering of thanks. The Taliban and their supporters took to their vehicles, honked their horns and chanted late into the night.

On Wednesday, the group took the celebrations to the northern district of Bagram, where the US controlled a large airbase and the notorious Bagram Prison, where American and Afghan officials were accused of abuse and torture of prisoners. That the choice of location for such exuberant festivities was once a US stronghold was likely the Taliban sending a timely victory message to the West.

Hassan Akhund, the Taliban leader and currently the acting prime minister of Afghanistan, gave a speech marking the end of US occupation. He said when foreign forces withdrew, they left little behind and drove the country into further poverty by imposing sanctions. He promised that the Taliban government would triumph and deliver safety and security to the nation.

In Kabul, Taliban supporters gathered in clusters of dozens and sometimes hundreds of people in various neighbourhoods. Other residents, however, went on with the day as if it was any other holiday, taking the time to dine out with their families.

Though the Islamic Emirate and its supporters kept reiterating that the Taliban's return to power meant an end to violence in the country, the day was not without incident. Around 5.30pm local time, the Kotal Khair Khana neighborhood in the North of Kabul came under attack. An explosion near the Police District 17 headquarters led to at least two deaths and three injuries, according to police officials in the capital.

The blast marks the second time in as many weeks that the area has come under attack. On 17 August, at least 21 people were killed at a mosque during evening prayers.

At Pashtunistan Square, near the Presidential Palace, crowds began gathering early to mark the occasion. Emran, 24, said once he realised the crowds would be gathering in celebration, he purchased three dozen large Taliban flags.

By noon, he had sold more than half his stock at 250 Afghanis ($3) apiece.

“They all come, stop and immediately tape the flags to their cars, then they just circle around the city celebrating and cheering,” he said.

A crowd also gathered outside the walls of the former US embassy and a roundabout that was once dedicated to Massoud.

At the roundabout, Qari Elias was clutching a large Taliban flag and watching a procession of police cars heading towards Kabul International Airport.

He said August 31 was a proud day for his family.

“Generations of my family have fought three different occupiers," he said. "My grandfathers and their fathers fought the British. My father fought the Soviets and I took on the Americans and their Nato.”

Mr Elias began to cry as he described his pride at helping to put an end to what he considered as western crimes. “We put an end to their bombardments. They hit our weddings, our schools, our mosques, our homes but no more.”

Waving his banner in the air, he said: “I hold this flag so we can all be united as one Afghan people. Your ethnicity, your province don’t matter, we are all Afghan. All Muslim. We all deserve to live in peace.”

Updated: August 31, 2022, 6:03 PM