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US Central Command Major General Chris Donahue boards a plane as the final American service member to depart Afghanistan AP/PA Images
US Troops

Taliban celebrates 'victory' over US as Biden prepares to give address on Afghanistan departure

The US President will deliver an address later today on the decision to withdraw troops.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Aug 2021

TALIBAN LEADERS HAVE marched into Kabul’s international airport, hours after the final US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The last US troops left Afghanistan in time for president Joe Biden’s 31 August deadline, ending a 20-year-war. 

The flight, a large C-17 military transport, took off from the airport one minute before midnight Kabul time, Central Command Commander General Kenneth McKenzie said.

Biden will deliver an address later today on the decision to withdraw troops. 

Standing on the tarmac at the airport, Taliban leaders pledged to secure the country, quickly reopen the airport and grant amnesty to former opponents.

“Afghanistan is finally free,” Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official said on the tarmac.

“The military and civilian side [of the airport] are with us and in control. Hopefully, we will be announcing our cabinet. Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a livestream posted by a militant: “The world should have learned its lesson and this is the enjoyable moment of victory.”

Earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US will continue to try to get Americans and Afghans out of the country, and will work with Afghanistan’s neighbours to secure their departure either over land or by charter flight once the Kabul airport reopens.

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution – with Russia and China abstaining rather than wielding their vetoes – to call on the Taliban to give safe passage to people who wish to leave Afghanistan.

featureimage The Taliban’s leaders symbolically mark their victory in Afghanistan by walking across Kabul airport’s runway following the withdrawal of US forces. Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi / AP Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi / AP / AP

Besieged airport

Inside Kabul airport, suitcases and other pieces of luggage were left strewn across the floor, apparently left behind in the chaos. A poster of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed anti-Taliban fighter, had been destroyed.

The airport had seen chaotic and deadly scenes since the Taliban blitzed across Afghanistan and took Kabul on 15 August.

Thousands of Afghans besieged the airport, some falling to their death after desperately hanging onto the side of an American C-17 military cargo jet.

Last week, an Islamic State suicide attack at an airport gate killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members.

Today, after a night that saw the Taliban fire triumphantly into the air, guards now blearily on duty kept out the curious and those still somehow hoping to catch a flight out.

“After 20 years we have defeated the Americans,” said Mohammad Islam, a Taliban guard at the airport from Logar province, cradling a Kalashnikov rifle.

“They have left and now our country is free.

It’s clear what we want. We want Shariah [Islamic law], peace and stability.

‘This is the chance to bring their war to an end as well’

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative who oversaw US talks with the Taliban, wrote on Twitter that “Afghans face a moment of decision & opportunity” after the withdrawal.

“Their country’s future is in their hands. They will choose their path in full sovereignty,” he said.

“This is the chance to bring their war to an end as well.”

Medical equipment remains in short supply in Afghanistan, while thousands who fled the Taliban’s advance remain living in poor conditions.

A major drought also has cut into the country’s food supplies, making its imports even more important and raising the risk of people going hungry.

The rights of women, who faced oppression under the Taliban’s previous rule, remain in question.

The Taliban has ordered schools to be segregated, but this is often not enforced for younger children.


EU member states are trying to find a consensus on how to help Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries take in refugees fleeing the Taliban.

“We need to avoid a humanitarian crisis, we need to avoid a migratory crisis, and we need to avoid security threats,” the EU commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson said ahead of a meeting of the EU’s 27 interior ministers in Brussels.

“But then we need to act now and not wait until we have big flows of people at our external borders or until we have terrorist organisations being stronger,” she said.

“Everybody would like to avoid a situation like in 2015, and we can avoid it, we are much better prepared, and we can reach out to do things already now,” Johansson, a former Swedish minister, said.

At the meeting, the ministers are expected to approve a declaration that includes support for countries in the region to take in refugees from Afghanistan, which has been in Taliban hands since mid-August.

Its return to power has plunged the future of many Afghans into uncertainty and sparked concern that millions may seek refuge in neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the draft text seen by AFP, member states say they are “determined to act jointly to prevent the return of large-scale illegal and uncontrolled migration movements,” as in 2015 when more than a million migrants mostly fleeing the war in Syria arrived in Europe.

In 2016, Turkey inked a deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe by hosting millions of arrivals in return for some incentives including financial assistance.

The EU may yet seek to do the same with Afghanistan’s neighbours, but senior officials say the priority is stabilising to situation inside the country.

Member states are concerned about the risk of terrorism, promising to “do their utmost to ensure that the situation in Afghanistan does not lead to new security risks for EU citizens.”

As interior ministers, “our main responsibility is to protect EU citizens from terrorist attacks,” said Slovenian Minister Ales Hojs, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

“You see what is happening all the time in Kabul, we cannot be sure that something like this cannot happen in the future in Europe,” he said.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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