The airport that in recent weeks had been the epicenter of a frenzied Western evacuation mission was turned into a stage for Taliban celebrations after the last US plane left just before midnight Monday night, ending the most long war of the United States.
Videos showed Taliban fighters filling the night air with gunshots and marching through the airport. As the sun rose on Tuesday, footage showed activists making their way through an abandoned hangar littered with equipment left behind by the United States.
In one video, activists dressed in American-style uniforms and holding American-made weapons examined a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter parked in a hangar. Taliban fighters were also seen posing for photos as they sat in the cockpits of planes and helicopters that had belonged to the Afghan Air Force.
Some of the US military equipment used in Afghanistan has been withdrawn from the country and other items have been deactivated, General Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, told reporters in a briefing Monday.
Standing on the airport runway Tuesday morning, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a small crowd that “This victory belongs to all of us.”
He was joined by heavily armed fighters from the Taliban’s Badri 313 Special Forces Brigade, dressed in camouflage uniforms and desert boots.
Mujahid praised the aligned Taliban fighters, and indeed “the whole nation”. He said the Taliban wanted “good relations with the United States and the world”.
On Tuesday morning, Afghanistan’s estimated 38 million people woke up to a new phase in the Taliban’s takeover for the first time since the 1990s, when they imposed a barbaric interpretation of the Sharia law banning girls from going to school, stoning women for adultery, and plunging the country into economic crisis.
The Taliban pledged to rule more moderately this time around and said they would still allow foreign nationals and Afghans with appropriate papers to leave the country after August 31. But many Afghans are skeptical of their demands, and huge question marks hang over ability to rule the country
An immediate challenge for the Taliban will be securing the Hamid Karzai International Airport, a vital lifeline for the rest of the world – both for Afghans and foreign nationals who wish to leave, and for assistance to enter.
Afghanistan is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and WHO and UNICEF have already struggled to get essential food and medical supplies to the airport as part of the mass evacuation operation .
The resumption of commercial flights will also be crucial for those still wishing to leave the country but who have not been able to board military evacuation planes.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and its allies are discussing ways to reopen the airport as quickly as possible to facilitate safe travel out of Afghanistan for Americans, the lawful permanent residents of United States and the Afghans who worked with the United States.
“We discussed how we will work together to facilitate safe travel out of Afghanistan, including reopening the civilian Kabul airport as soon as possible,” Blinken said. “And we very much appreciate the efforts of Qatar and Turkey, in particular, to make this happen. This would allow a small number of daily charter flights, which is essential for anyone wanting to leave Afghanistan in the future.”
Turkey’s foreign minister said on Sunday that Ankara was in talks with the Taliban to provide technical assistance to operate the Kabul airport, Reuters reported.
Cavusoglu said inspection reports showed runways, towers and terminals, including those on the civilian side of the airport, had been damaged and needed to be repaired.