The Taliban are celebrating their return to power after taking the lead over Kabul airport following the departure of the last US troops from Afghanistan.
The Afghan group said on Tuesday that Afghanistan was now a “free and sovereign” nation because they welcomed the withdrawal of US troops and described their departure as a “historic moment”.
“Congratulations to Afghanistan … this victory belongs to all of us,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters from the runway of Hamid Karzai airport.
“America was defeated, they could not achieve their goals through military operations,” he said.
The United States’ longest-running military conflict came to an end on Monday night when its forces left Kabul airport, where they were overseeing an insane airlift that has evacuated more than 123,000 people since the Taliban took over on August 15.
Taliban fighters stormed the airport and fired weapons into the air over the city – an astonishing return after US forces invaded in 2001 and overthrew them for their ties to al-Qaeda, which was blamed for the 9/11 attacks.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, announced that the last US troops had flown out of Kabul just before midnight local time (19:30 GMT).
“We did not take out everyone we wanted to get out. But I think if we were to stay another ten days, we would not get all we wanted out. ”
Some Afghans are concerned about the return to the previous Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, which was marked by restrictions on women’s rights and a cruel justice system.
However, the Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant and open brand compared to their first rule, and Mujahid continued the theme.
“We want good relations with the United States and the world. “We welcome good diplomatic relations with all of them,” he said.
Mujahid also insisted that the Taliban security forces be ‘gentle and kind’.
In a report from Kabul, Charles Stratford of Al Jazeera said: “From the outset, the Taliban have tried hard to convince the Afghans and the international community that they are more aware of the needs of a functioning country in the modern world. … and that we [they] changed to another political entity. ”
However, Stratford added that ‘issues of trust’ still exist. “There are big countries, American opponents, that have already reached the Taliban, including China, Russia and Iran,” he said.
All eyes are now on the way the Taliban are handling the first few days of sovereignty over the country, with a sharp focus on whether it will allow free departure for those who want to leave – including some foreigners.
Blinken said a small number of American citizens live in the country – “less than 200”, but probably closer to just 100.
Many thousands of Afghans, who have worked with foreign missions or the United States-backed government over the years and are afraid of retaliation, also want to get away.
UN Security Council a resolution passed urged the Taliban on Monday to honor a commitment to free people from Afghanistan in the coming days and to grant humanitarian access to the UN and other aid agencies.
Talks are continuing on who will now run the airport in Kabul. The Taliban has asked Turkey to handle logistics while maintaining security control, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted the offer.
Biden faces criticism
The withdrawal of US troops comes just before the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden to end the war that killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and more than 2,400 US servicemen.
Biden, amid sharp criticism from the opposition as well as from the other Democrats, over the handling of the withdrawal, Biden said he would address the country Tuesday in Washington, DC.
“We can not wage endless wars, but the extent and consequence of Biden’s failure here is astounding,” Republican Senator Rick Scott said.
Biden’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, could give the Taliban little more than harsh words.
“Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned,” Blinken said when announcing that the US had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul and relocated its operations to Qatar.