The Taliban celebrated their victory over Western powers as the last U.S. planes disappeared into the sky over Afghanistan around midnight Monday.
Western powers led by the U.S. have been fighting the Taliban for more than 20 years.
The departure of the U.S. cargo planes marked the end of a massive airlift in which tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan, fearful of the return of Taliban rule after the militants took over most of the country and rolled into the capital earlier this month.
“The last five aircraft have left, it’s over!” said Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter stationed at Kabul’s international airport. “I cannot express my happiness in words. … Our 20 years of sacrifice worked.”
In Washington, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, announced the completion of America’s longest war and the evacuation effort, saying the last planes took off from Kabul airport one minute before midnight Monday in Kabul.
“We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” he said.
With its last troops gone, the U.S. ended its 20-year war with the Taliban back in power. Many Afghans remain fearful of their rule or of further instability, and there have been sporadic reports of killings and other abuses in areas under Taliban control despite the group’s pledges to restore peace and security.
“American soldiers left the Kabul airport, and our nation got its full independence,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said early Tuesday.
The U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the United States, which al-Qaida orchestrated while sheltering under Taliban rule. The invasion drove the Taliban from power in a matter of weeks and scattered Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida leaders.
The U.S. and its allies launched an ambitious effort to rebuild Afghanistan after decades of war, investing billions of dollars in a Western-style government and security forces. Women, who had been largely confined to their homes under the Taliban’s hard-line rule, benefitted from access to education and came to assume prominent roles in public life.
But the Taliban never went away.
In the coming years, as the U.S. focused on another troubled war in Iraq and the Afghan government became mired in corruption, the Taliban regrouped in the countryside and in neighboring Pakistan. In recent years, they seized large parts of rural Afghanistan and carried out near-daily assaults on Afghan security forces.Eager to end the war, the Trump administration signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that paved the way for the withdrawal. President Joe Biden extended the deadline from May to August and continued with the pullout despite the Taliban’s rapid blitz across the country earlier this month.