Aug. 31 (UPI) — A new era in Afghanistan began on Tuesday with the Taliban celebrating the dawn of their second reign over the war-torn nation and the completion of the total withdrawal of U.S. forces.
The last American troops left late Monday night, also leaving the country to the militant Islamic fundamentalist group, which now must govern over an unstable economy and a growing humanitarian crisis.
The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan’s “independence” and their “victory” over the Americans in Kabul on Tuesday, setting off fireworks and firing weapons into the air.
“What we achieved today is the result of the blood of thousands of [freedom fighters], loyalty, patience and tolerating the difficulties,” Anas Haqqani, second in command of the Taliban’s Haqqani Network, told NBC News.
Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid congratulated Afghans on the victory at the airport in Kabul, which had been in chaos for two weeks and was the scene of a bloody suicide attack just days ago.
“This victory belongs to us all,” he said, according to The New York Times.
U.S. President Joe Biden stuck to his Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline even after the suicide bombings that killed more than a dozen Marines and almost 200 Afghan civilians, telling the American people he refused to pass on the war to yet another president when he leaves office.
Biden and his administration also face the start of a new era on Tuesday — one in which American troops are no longer in Afghanistan, but some remaining U.S. citizens and thousands of allied Afghans still are.
“I want to thank our commanders and the men and women serving under them for their execution of the dangerous retrograde from Afghanistan as scheduled … with no further loss of American lives,” Biden said in a statement on Monday.
“The past 17 days have seen our troops execute the largest airlift in US history, evacuating over 120,000 US citizens, citizens of our allies, and Afghan allies of the United States. They have done it with unmatched courage, professionalism, and resolve. Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended.”
Biden is scheduled to speak further on the U.S. withdrawal at the White House at 1:30 p.m EDT on Tuesday.
A number of Afghan nationals holding evacuation documents said they were left behind because they could not reach Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul during the evacuation.
“No one helps us,” Ali Mohammad, an Afghan national with evacuation documents, told Tolo News. “On the first day, we went to the main gate. We were forced to leave there. Then we went to another gate, and another gate.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the United States will continue to try and get refugees like Mohammad out through diplomatic channels.
Blinken said fewer than 200 U.S. citizens who want to leave remain in Afghanistan.
“Part of the challenge with fixing a precise number is that there are long-time residents of Afghanistan who have American passports, and who were trying to determine whether or not they wanted to leave,” Blinken said in a statement. “Many are dual-citizen Americans with deep roots and extended families in Afghanistan, who have resided there for many years. For many, it’s a painful choice.”
The Taliban now face crises on multiple fronts in Afghanistan, including a massive rebuilding effort, food insecurity and an emerging and bloody feud with the Islamic State-Khorasan, or IS-K.
“Peoples’ expectations have grown dramatically after the past 20 years of freedom and liberation, and the pain is yet to come,” Tolo News owner Saad Mohseni said, according to the Times.
“Will the Taliban engage the world with a more inclusive approach? Or will they return to the ways of the past?”