Video footage posted online showed members of the Taliban, designated by many federal agencies as a terrorist organization, entering the airport armed with U.S. rifles and gear. It came just moments after the Americans carried out their final evacuation flight, with the U.S. Central Command’s Gen. Frank McKenzie announcing the official end of the 20-year-long conflict.
“It is a historical day and a historical moment,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference at the airport, according to the Reuters news agency. “We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power.”
Known as the “graveyard of empires” by some, Afghanistan has been a notoriously difficult region to conquer and control. The Soviet Union waged a war for years in the 1980s only to be rebuffed by mujahideen fighters who were being supplied by Western forces, including the United States. Before, the British Empire in the mid-19th century attempted to capture the rugged country and were defeated and forced to retreat what is known now as the “Disaster in Afghanistan.”
Although it succeeded in driving the Taliban from power and stopped Afghanistan from being used by al-Qaeda as a base to attack the United States, it ended with the terror group controlling more territory than when they last ruled.
Observers are now watching to see how the Taliban, which enforced a strict interpretation of Shariah Law from 1996 to 2001, rules over the Afghan populace.
Meanwhile, inside Afghanistan, a few hundred Americans remain, according to McKenzie, who delivered a speech on the withdrawal on Monday afternoon ET.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we stayed another 10 days, we would not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” he said.
And for Afghans who want to leave the country, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that the Kabul airport has to be kept open.
“It’s essential to keep the airport open, both to enable humanitarian aid to the Afghan people and also to make sure that we can continue to get people out—those who wished to, but were not able to be part of the military evacuation,” he told AFP news agency. “We will not forget them.”
President Joe Biden set an Aug. 31 deadline to complete the withdrawal, although his administration has received significant blowback over how the pullout was handled, with many questioning the president’s leadership ability during a time of crisis. Last week, a terrorist bombing at the Kabul airport claimed by ISIS-K killed at least 13 American soldiers and many more Afghans, raising concerns about the regional security threat posed by the group.
Also of concern are the billions of dollars of U.S. weapons, vehicles, and equipment that were captured by the Taliban during its days-long offensive across Afghanistan. About a week ago, several senators sent a request for an audit of the Department of Defense (DOD) after seeing Taliban forces capturing several U.S. Black Hawk helicopters.
Footage uploaded online on Monday appeared to show a Taliban-commissioned Black Hawk helicopter hanging an individual by the throat in Kandahar Province. The Epoch Times couldn’t verify its authenticity.
There will not be a U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground in Afghanistan for now, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a Sunday interview. Reports have indicated that the U.S. Embassy for Afghanistan will be located in Doha, Qatar.
Reuters contributed to this report.