Taliban fighters took control of Kabul airport on Tuesday, following the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops, marking the end of a 20-year war that left the Islamist militia stronger than it was in 2001.
Celebratory gunfire resounded across Kabul, as shaky video footage showed fighters entering the airport after the last U.S. troops flew out a minute before midnight.
Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told a news conference at the airport after the departure that “it is a historical day and a historical moment.
“We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power.’’
“Thousands of Afghans have already fled, fearing Taliban reprisals. More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in a massive but chaotic airlift by the U.S. and its allies, over the past two weeks.
However, thousands who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.
U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said about 200 contingents of Americans, wanted to leave but were unable to get on the last flights.
British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, put the number of UK nationals in Afghanistan in the low hundreds, following the evacuation of some 5,000.
General Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told a Pentagon briefing that the chief U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, was on the last C-17 flight out.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But I think if we’d stayed another 10 days, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out.”
The leaving U.S. troops destroyed more than 70 aircraft, dozens of armoured vehicles and disabled air defences that had thwarted an attempted Islamic State rocket attack, on the eve of their departure
In a statement, President Joe Biden defended his decision to stick to Tuesday’s withdrawal deadline.
He said the world would hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow safe passage, for those wanting to leave Afghanistan.
“Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” said Biden, who thanked the U.S. military for carrying out the dangerous evacuation. He plans to address the American people soon.