- Taliban ‘victory’ parades took place in Afghanistan today after the last US troops left the country overnight
- Coffins draped in the UK, US, French and NATO flags were paraded through the streets by the Islamists
- Thousands of people waving Taliban flags turned out to watch, after fireworks were let off in Kabul overnight
- Meanwhile Taliban leaders paraded at Kabul airport alongside troops decked out head to toe in western gear
- Hundreds of American and British citizens were left behind during the evacuation along with thousands of Afghans who had been promised sanctuary for helping western forces, who now fear for their lives
The Taliban held mock funerals for American, British, French and NATO forces today as thousands turned out on the streets of major cities to celebrate the end of the west’s 20-year war.
Coffins draped with the US, UK and French flag as well as NATO’s insignia were paraded through the streets of Khost by crowds flying the Taliban’s emblem – just two weeks after anti-Taliban protests in the same city.
In Kandahar – a traditional stronghold of the Islamists – thousands also turned out waving white Taliban flags to celebrate what the group is referring to as its ‘independence day’, hours after the final American troops boarded an evacuation flight out of the country.
It comes after celebratory scenes in Kabul overnight, where fireworks exploded and gunfire rattled through the air moments after the final US jet departed.
Speaking from the runway at Kabul airport this morning – and surrounded by Taliban special forces units dressed head to toe in American gear – spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid hailed the ‘victory’ over western forces.
‘It is an historical day and an historical moment…. we liberated our country from a great power,’ he added, saying the last 20 years should serve as a ‘big lesson for other invaders [and] a lesson for the world.’
But as the Taliban and Afghans celebrated, recriminations began in the UK – with critics rounding on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and calling for his resignation over the shambolic withdrawal which began while he was on holiday in Crete.
But Mr Raab hit back, accusing his detractors of ‘buck passing’ and giving ‘deeply irresponsible’ briefings to the press while the Kabul evacuation was still underway, while denying reports that the ISIS-K suicide bombing which struck the airstrip was made more deadly because of British evacuation plans.
He was forced to admit, however, that Britain had left ‘hundreds’ of UK nations stranded in the country and fearing for their lives, and was unable to give a ‘definitive’ figure on the number of Afghans who were abandoned having been promised sanctuary in Britain.
‘It’s very difficult to give you a firm figure,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘I can tell you that for UK nationals we’ve secured since April over 5,000, and we’re in the low hundreds (remaining).’
He spoke as Sir John Sawers, a former head of MI6, warned that Taliban victory in Afghanistan will ‘inspire’ other terrorist groups to launch attacks on the west while at the same time hurting the west’s ability to stop them.
The Taliban were certainly keen to present their take-over of the country as a military victory today, parading special forces soldiers dressed head to toe in western gear at Kabul airport while senior leaders posed in front of captured aircraft.
Afghan women can study at university but not in the same room as men, Taliban declare
Afghan women will be allowed to study at university, but not in the same room as men, the Taliban has declared.
The group’s acting higher education minister also said that male teachers will not be permitted to teach female students under new rules.
The announcement comes amid concerns that Afghanistan‘s return to Taliban rule will curb progress made towards women’s rights.
The Taliban is in the process of hammering out a framework for its government, having captured all but one of the country’s 34 provinces, but has indicated that it intends to rule based on its interpretation of Sharia law.
The group has been at pains to attempt to reassure Afghan citizens and the international community that it will not return to severely restricting the rights of women, as it did during its previous rule, but many doubt the militants’ sincerity.
‘The people of Afghanistan will continue their higher education in the light of Sharia law in safety without being in a mixed male and female environment,’ Abul Baqi Haqqani, the Taliban’s acting minister for higher education, said in a meeting on Sunday, adding: ‘men will not be allowed to teach girls.’
Haqqani also explained that changes would be made to the curriculum to ‘create a reasonable and Islamic curriculum that is in line with our Islamic, national and historical values, and, on the other hand, be able to compete with other countries’.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s chief spokesman, addressed the media from the tarmac, bidding ‘congratulations to Afghanistan’ while adding: ‘This victory belongs to us all.’
Calling the day a ‘big lesson for other invaders and for our future generation,’ he then told gathered journalists: ‘It is an historical day and an historical moment. We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power’.
Hundreds of American and British citizens were left behind when the last US evacuation plane took off late Monday, along with thousands of Afghans who helped western troops on a promise of sanctuary that was ultimately broken. Many now fear for their lives.
Mujahid insisted today that Taliban security forces will be ‘pleasant and nice’ to those left behind, despite reports already emerging of summary executions and persecution against women reminiscent of the Taliban of old.
Meanwhile at Bagram air base, the former stronghold of western forces, its new Taliban commander was boasting of having ‘beaten’ America using little more than Kalashnikov rifles while saying the airfield will now be ‘a base for jihad for all Muslims’.
Speaking to The Times, 35-year-old Maulawi Hafiz Mohibullah Muktaz said: ‘Never in our wildest dreams could we have believed we could beat a superpower like America with just our Kalashnikovs.
‘When you do jihad all doors open, we defeated America with our faith and our guns and we hope now that Bagram can be a base for jihad for all Muslims
‘For any foreign power considering attacking Afghanistan then look at Bagram now and learn your lesson well before embarking on foolish endeavour. See the West’s mighty technology humbled here by mujahidin.
‘In 15 years as a mujahid fighting the Americans I wondered often if I may fail or die. Yet here is proof of the power of faith and God and jihad. On the back of victory I hope we can use Bagram as a place to spread jihad further into the region and Muslim world.’
Reflecting on America’s withdrawal from the other side of the conflict, head of U.S. Central Command General Frank McKenzie said on Monday night: ‘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,’ he insisted.
At the same time the US released a night-vision image of Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who was the last soldier to board a plane out of the country.
All eyes will now turn to how the Taliban handles its first few days with sole authority over the country, with a sharp focus on whether it will allow other foreigners and Afghans to leave.
Reports suggest many are already fleeing through Pakistan to the east and Iran to the west. The US and UK are still working on arrangements to allow people to be evacuated from these neighbouring countries.
More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in a massive but chaotic airlift by the United States and its allies over the past two weeks, but tens of thousands who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.
A contingent of Americans, estimated by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken as fewer than 200, and possibly closer to 100, 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.
Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official, said today that ‘Afghanistan is finally free.’
‘The military and civilian side (of Kabulairport) are with us and in control,’ he said. ‘Hopefully, we will be announcing our Cabinet. Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.
Wasiq also urged people to return to work and reiterated the Taliban pledge offering a general amnesty. “People have to be patient,” he said. “Slowly we will get everything back to normal. It will take time.”
Taliban spokesman Mujahid also addressed the gathered members of the Badri unit. “I hope you be very cautious in dealing with the nation,” he said.
“Our nation has suffered war and invasion and the people do not have more tolerance.” At the end of his remarks, the Badri fighters shouted: ‘Allahu Akbar’ or “God is greatest!”
In an interview with Afghan state television, Mujahid also discussed restarting operations at the airport, which remains a key way out for those wanting to leave the country.
“Our technical team will be checking the technical and logistical needs of the airport,” he said. “If we are able to fix everything on our own, then we won’t need any help.
Gay man is ‘raped and beaten by the Taliban’
A gay man has been raped and beaten by the Taliban in just the latest example of the new life facing Afghans as their country returns to Islamist rule.
The man, who has not been identified, was lured out of hiding in the capital Kabul by two Taliban fighters who posed as a friend offering safe passage out of the country.
Instead, they beat and raped the man when he arrived to meet them – leaving him alive but terrified and suffering psychological torment.
It comes after the Taliban was accused of forcibly marrying girls as young as 12 to its fighters as sex slaves, and of carrying out summary executions against anyone suspected of helping western forces during the 20-year war.
The man’s fate was revealed by Artemis Akbary, an Afghan rights activist now living in Turkey, who told ITV News that he had been in touch with the man.
He said the attack is just an early example of what life will be like for gay people under Taliban rule, as the final US troops left the country.
‘They are trying to tell the world ‘we are changed and we don’t have problems with women’s rights or human rights’,’ Akbary said.
‘They are lying. The Taliban hasn’t changed, because their ideology hasn’t changed.’
‘If there is need for technical or logistics help to repair the destruction, then we might ask help from Qatar or Turkey.’ He didn’t elaborate on what was destroyed.
While the international community appears to have accepted the reality of Taliban rule, the UK and US remain willing to take on Islamic State, also known as Daesh.
British forces are prepared to launch air strikes to target so-called Islamic State terrorists in Afghanistan, the head of the RAF indicated as the US-led military presence in the country came to an end.
The group’s Afghan offshoot, Isis-K, carried out the bloody attack on Kabul airport in the final days of the evacuation effort which killed two Britons and the child of a British national, along with 13 US service personnel and scores of Afghans.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the global coalition against the terrorist group was ready ‘to combat Daesh networks by all means available, wherever they operate’.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston indicated the RAF could strike Isis-K targets in Afghanistan.
‘Ultimately what this boils down to is that we’ve got to be able to play a global role in the global coalition to defeat Daesh, whether it’s strike, or whether it’s moving troops or equipment into a particular country, at scale and at speed,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
‘If there’s an opportunity for us to contribute I am in no doubt that we will be ready to – that will be anywhere where violent extremism raises its head, and is a direct or indirect threat to the UK and our allies.
‘Afghanistan is probably one of the most inaccessible parts of the world, and we’re able to operate there.’
The attack on Kabul airport on Thursday has led to a transatlantic blame game, with US sources indicating the gate that was attacked was kept open to facilitate the British evacuation.
According to leaked Pentagon notes obtained by Politico, Read Admiral Peter Vasely, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, had wanted to close Abbey Gate but it was kept open to allow UK evacuees into the airport.
‘There was just a leg and a hand remaining’: Neighbours describe horrific scene where US drone killed seven kids
Neighbours and relatives have described the horrific scene where a US drone strike killed seven children and say that the Pentagon’s claims about ISIS explosives inside the car made no sense from the blast.
Washington said its drone strike on Sunday was aimed at a vehicle transporting ‘a substantial amount of explosive material’ towards Kabul airport.
Ezmarai Ahmadi, 40, was killed alongside his sons Zamir, Faisal and Farzad – aged 20, 16 and 12 respectively.
He lost six nieces and nephews in the blast, including a boy and a girl both aged two, two girls aged seven and five, a six-year-old boy and 28-year-old Naser Heydari.
Ezmarai had worked with international organisations for 17 years, while Naser had worked for an Afghan National Army commander based in Kandahar under the US-backed government.
They had both applied for P2 visas under the US scheme to help eligible Afghans to emigrate with their families.
Matin Aziz, 20, a neighbour, said he saw Ezmarai and the children burning after the missile struck the car.
‘We were sitting in the street just around the corner and then we heard this almighty blast. When we got here there was a big fire and bodies everywhere,’ he told The Times.
‘I saw Ezmarai on fire. I could see two children inside the burning car. We tried to put the fire out and help them but it was too late. We tried to get some of them to hospital but they all died on the way. There was just one leg and one hand remaining of Farzad [Ezmarai’s 10-year-old son].’
Aziz also claimed Washington’s statement about there being explosives in the car didn’t add up.
‘If there were explosives in the car there would have been a much bigger explosion and the surrounding area would have been destroyed,’ he said.
All three of Romal Ahmadi’s young children were killed in the blast.
‘I was inside the house with my wife when it happened,’ Romal says. ‘My brother had returned home from work so some of the children jumped into the car – it’s just a silly thing we do, they like to drive the car inside.
‘My brother had got out of the driver’s seat and my 10-year-old nephew Farzad was driving.’
The Ministry of Defence said that throughout the operation at the airport ‘we have worked closely with the US to ensure the safe evacuation of thousands of people’.
The final US troops left Kabul on a flight shortly before midnight local time on Monday, meeting President Biden’s commitment to withdraw ahead of the deadline.
The Taliban proclaimed ‘full independence’ for Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.
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.
But as the Taliban watched U.S. troops leave Kabul on Monday night, eight of their fighters were killed in clashes in the Panjshir valley north of the capital, said Fahim Dashti, a spokesman for the recently formed National Resistance Forces.
Several thousand anti-Taliban fighters, from local militias, remnants of army and special forces units, have gathered in the valley under the command of regional leader Ahmad Massoud.
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 on Tuesday afternoon.
Biden has said the United States long ago achieved its objectives set in ousting the Taliban in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda militants who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks.
He has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans and some fellow Democrats for his handling of Afghanistan since the Taliban took over Kabul this month after a lightning advance and the collapse of the U.S.-backed government.
Blinken said the United States was prepared to work with the new Taliban government if it did not carry out reprisals against opponents in the country.
‘The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support,’ he said. ‘Our position is any legitimacy and support will have to be earned.’
Mujahid said the Taliban wanted to establish diplomatic relations with the United States despite two decades of hostility.
‘The Islamic Emirate wants to have good diplomatic relations with the whole world,’ he said.
Neighbouring Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told a news conference in Islamabad that he expected a new ‘consensus government will be formed in the coming days in Afghanistan’.
The Taliban must revive a war-shattered economy without the foreign aid running into billions of dollars that had flowed to the previous ruling elite and fed systemic corruption.
People living outside Afghan cities face what U.N. officials have called a catastrophic humanitarian situation worsened by a severe drought.
It was not supposed to be like this. Plans for an orderly departure evaporated as the Taliban advanced rapidly across the country as they capitalized on an Afghan army that fell apart when it knew its strongest army was leaving.
McKenzie shrugged off questions about his feelings at leaving the country in the grip of religious hardliners that American had gone to war to vanquish.
Retired generals and admirals call for US defence chiefs to resign over Afghan withdrawal
Dozens of retired generals and admirals are demanding that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley resign over the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.
‘The retired Flag Officers signing this letter are calling for the resignation and retirement of the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) based on negligence in performing their duties primarily involving events surrounding the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan,’ 90 retired top-ranking military officials wrote in an open letter released Monday.
They all proposed what they, as former U.S. military decision makers, felt should have happened in the withdrawal, including not rushing the withdrawal and not abandoning the Bagram Air Base.
More specifically, they said Milley and Austin should have advised Biden against the withdrawal.
‘As principal military advisors to the CINC (Commander in Chief)/President, the SECDEF and CJCS should have recommended against this dangerous withdrawal in the strongest possible terms,’ they wrote.
‘If they did not do everything within their authority to stop the hasty withdrawal, they should resign,’ the letter demands.
They also said that if Milley and Austin did advise against this, they should have resigned if Biden didn’t take their direction to show their disapproval and to not have to carry out the mission that ended up with lives lost of 13 U.S. service members.
‘No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who serve, nor the emotions they’re feeling at this moment, but I will say that I’m proud that both my son and I have been a part of it,’ he said.
He said the final plane carrying American civilians left about 12 hours before the final flight.
That could leave as many as 250 stranded in the country as negotiations continue about setting up a mechanism to allow them to leave.
‘I believe we’re going to be able to get those people out,’ said McKenzie.
‘I think we’re going to negotiate very hard, very aggressively to get our other Afghan partners out.’
Turkey has offered to run the airport but wants to deploy its own troops for security – a possible sticking point with the Taliban.
The withdrawal was dominated by a hurriedly thrown together evacuation effort.
A coalition of countries worked around the clock to rescue their citizens and Afghans who worked for their militaries.
More than 122,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since Aug. 14, the day before the regained control of the country.
It leaves those left behind in a perilous state.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a notice that Hamid Karzai International Airport was without air traffic control service after the U.S. exit.
The Pentagon remained tight-lipped about its final operations on Monday and refused to discuss when its last troops would leave.
Earlier in the day, spokesman John Kirby told reporters ‘there is still time’ for Americans to join the massive airlift that has allowed more than 116,000 people to leave since the Taliban swept back into power two weeks ago.
All day Monday, U.S. military transport jets came and went despite a rocket attack early in the morning.
The crisis has been the biggest test of Biden’s presidency.
He has faced repeated questions about whether his decision triggered the collapse of the government in Kabul and the rapid return to power of the Taliban.
International allies have said they blindsided by the rush to the exit, and Democrats and Republicans have delivered a withering stream of criticism.
On Sunday, he came to face to face with the consequences of his decision to bring home U.S. troops home.
He met families of 13 service members killed in a suicide attack outside Kabul airport, as they protected the evacuation, and then watched in solemn silence as their remains were carried from a C-17 transport plane at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
But the war is not over with America’s departure. The return of the Taliban brings with it the spectre of safe havens for U.S. enemies.
And he Biden administration faces a dilemma about its commitment to launch ‘over the horizon’ strikes on terrorist threats.
It had expected to be able to rely on the support of the Afghan government to provide cover for air strikes on groups plotting attacks on U.S. interests.
With the Taliban in power, Biden may need fresh rules of engagement to justify attacks on Afghan soil when it is no longer an American battlefield.
The emergence of ISIS-K as a potent threat may cause the biggest headache.
It posed the biggest threat to the withdrawal after carrying out a suicide bomb attack at the airport late last week that claimed more than 170 lives.
Biden had warned more attacks were highly likely and the United States said it carried out an air strike on Sunday night in Kabul on an explosives-laden vehicle.
American officials said that a U.S. drone strike blew up a vehicle carrying ‘multiple suicide bombers.’ An Afghan official said three children were killed in the strike.
The other pressing need is to find a mechanism that will ensure people are able to leave Afghanistan.
Earlier in the day a divided U.N. Security Council pressed the Taliban to stick to its public promises that foreigners and Afghans would be free to leave.
Sponsored by the U.S., Britain and France, the measure also calls for letting humanitarian aid flow, upholding human rights and combating terrorism.
‘The eyes of all Afghans are watching this council, and they expect clear support from the international community. And this lack of unity is a disappointment for us and for them,’ French Deputy Ambassador Nathalie Broadhurst said after the vote, in which Russia and China abstained.
Afterwards, the British permanent representative said the U.N. could consider using sanctions to hold the Taliban to their word.
‘The first is that we know that the Taliban want to see the lifting of some of the sanctions on Afghanistan, and that will be an important consideration,’ Ambassador Barbara Wooding told reporters.
‘The flip side of that is, of course, the Security Council could consider further sanctions on Afghanistan.’
A day earlier French President Emmanuel Macron said several nations were working on a proposal aimed at establishing a safe zone in Kabul to allow safe passage for people trying to flee.
Al Qaeda IS already back in Afghanistan: Bin Laden security chief and arms supplier Amin ul-Haq RETURNS to his hometown
A close aide of Osama bin Laden has returned to his home in Afghanistan after 20 years of US occupation just hours until American forces finish their evacuation from the war-torn country by President Joe Biden’s deadline, a video purports to show.
Amin ul-Haq, a top Al Qaeda arms supplier, returned to his hometown in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province on Monday just over two weeks after the Taliban completed its lightening fast offensive to take over nearly all of the country.
Ul-Haq headed bin Laden’s security when he was occupying the Tora Bora cave complex. The two men escaped together when US forces attacked the complex, according to NBC.
The Al Qaeda leader was killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011.