KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban held full control of Kabul International Airport on Tuesday after the last US plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war and leaving behind a now quiet airfield and Afghans abroad still hoping to flee the insurgent rule.
The vehicles circled back and forth along the only runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport on the northern military side of the airfield. Before dawn, heavily armed Taliban fighters made their way through hangars on the military side, overtaking some of the seven CH-46 helicopters the State Department used in its evacuations before making them impossible to fly.
The Taliban leaders then symbolically crossed the track, marking their victory.
“The world should have learned a lesson and this is the happy moment of victory,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a livestream published by an activist.
The airport had seen chaotic scenes since the Taliban crossed Afghanistan and captured Kabul on August 15. Thousands of Afghans besieged the airport, some falling to death after desperately clinging to the side of a US military C-17 cargo plane. Last week, an Islamic State suicide bombing at an airport gate killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen.
But on Tuesday, after a night in which Taliban fighters fired triumphantly into the air, guards now on duty kept the curious and those still hoping somehow out of taking a shot at bay. flight.
“After 20 years, we have defeated the Americans,” said Mohammad Islam, a Taliban guard at the airport in Logar province, cradling a Kalashnikov rifle. “They are gone and now our country is free.”
He added: “It is clear what we want. We want Sharia (Islamic law), peace and stability.”
Mohammad Naeem, spokesperson for the Taliban political bureau in Qatar, also praised the takeover in a video online early Tuesday.
“Thank God all the occupiers have completely left our country,” he said, congratulating the fighters by calling them mujahedin or holy warriors. “This victory was given to us by God. It was due to 20 years of sacrifice by the Mujahedin and their leaders. Many Mujahedin sacrificed their lives.”
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative who oversaw talks between the US and the Taliban, wrote on Twitter that “Afghans face a moment of decision and opportunity” after the pullout.
“The future of their country is in their hands. They will choose their path in full sovereignty,” he wrote. “It is also an opportunity to end their war.”
But the Taliban are facing what could be a series of major crises as they take full control of the country’s government. Most of the billions of dollars Afghanistan holds in foreign reserves are now frozen in America, putting pressure on its depreciating Afghan currency. Banks have put withdrawal controls in place, fearing rushes on their deposits with uncertainty. Officials across the country say they haven’t received their pay for months.
Medical equipment remains inadequate, while thousands of people who fled the advancing Taliban still live in squalid conditions. A major drought has also reduced the country’s food supply, making its imports even more important and increasing the risk of famine.
During the evacuation, US forces helped evacuate more than 120,000 US citizens, foreigners and Afghans, according to the White House, making it the largest airlift in US military history. Coalition forces also evacuated their citizens and Afghans. But for all who did come out, foreign countries and the United States acknowledged that they had not evacuated everyone who wanted to leave.
At the airport’s east gate, a handful of Afghans were still trying their luck to enter, hoping for a flight. For now, however, commercial airlines do not fly to the airport and it is still unclear who will take over the management of the country’s airspace. On exiting, the US military warned the pilots that the airport was “uncontrolled” and “no air traffic control or airport service is available.”
Many of those attempting to enter the airport were from Kandahar province, the heartland of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan which has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war. One of the men, Hekmatullah, who like many Afghans has a name, carried documents which he said showed he was working as a translator.
Hekmatullah said he waited four days before he could leave.
“But now I don’t know what chances I have,” he said.