Taliban fighters set off fireworks in the skies over Kabul as they celebrate the first anniversary of the US troop withdrawal
The Taliban celebrated Wednesday the first anniversary of the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan with victory chants and a military parade showcasing equipment left behind by foreign forces.
Afghanistan’s new rulers — not formally recognised by any other nation — have reimposed their harsh version of Islamic law on the impoverished country, with women squeezed out of public life.
But despite the restrictions, and a deepening humanitarian crisis, many Afghans say they are glad the foreign forces that prompted the Taliban insurgency left after a brutal 20-year war.
“We are happy that Allah got rid of the infidels from our country, and the Islamic Emirate has been established,” said Zalmai, a resident of Kabul.
“Happy Independence Day,” tweeted government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
In a separate statement, the government said the day marked “the country’s freedom from American occupation”.
“So many mujhahideen have been wounded (over the years), so many children became orphans and so many women become widows.”
The authorities held an official celebration including a military parade at Bagram Airbase, the nerve centre of US forces during the war.
Groups of Taliban fighters — dressed in traditional shalwar kameez and carrying rocket-propelled grenades — marched as helicopters flew by, video footage aired by state television showed.
Minutes later, dozens of military vehicles including humvees and artillery tanks, seized in the war or left behind by US forces during their chaotic withdrawal, were paraded.
Foreign media outlets were not given access to the event.
– Victory chants –
Banners celebrating victories against three empires — the former Soviet Union and Britain also lost wars in Afghanistan — flew in Kabul.
Hundreds of white Taliban flags bearing the Islamic proclamation of faith flew from lamposts and government buildings, while squares in the capital were decorated with lights.
Kabul residents chose to stay indoors after the authorities declared a national holiday, but hundreds of Taliban fighters gathered at Massoud Square, next to the now shut US embassy.
“Death to America! Death to occupation! Long live freedom!” chanted the fighters.
“The flag of Islam is flying high. We are happy to live under the banner of Islam,” Taliban fighter Shah Ahmad Omari told AFP.
On Tuesday night, the skies above Kabul were lit up with fireworks and celebratory gunfire from crowds of Taliban fighters.
The plane carrying the last US troops took off from Kabul just a minute before midnight on August 31 last year.
That departure ended America’s longest war, which began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Some 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 civilians were killed in the conflict, but it was the deaths of US service members — 2,461 in total — that became too much for the American public to bear.
“The burden of the war in Afghanistan, however, went beyond Americans,” the US military said Tuesday.
More than 3,500 troops from other NATO countries were also killed.
Thousands of civilians were also killed in horrific bomb and gun attacks by the Taliban during the war, several targeting foreign embassies, markets and military installations.
– ‘No good memory’ –
Two weeks before the end of last year’s withdrawal, the Taliban seized power following a lightning offensive against government forces.
Taliban social media accounts posted videos and pictures of newly trained troops — many flaunting equipment the US military left behind.
“This is how you troll a superpower after humiliating them and forcing them to withdraw from your country,” read a tweet with a photo of a giant Taliban flag now painted on the wall of the former US embassy.
Despite the Taliban’s pride in taking over, Afghanistan’s 38 million people face a desperate humanitarian crisis — aggravated after billions of dollars in assets were frozen and foreign aid dried up.
Hardships for ordinary Afghans, especially women, have increased.
The Taliban have shut girls’ secondary schools in many provinces and barred women from many government jobs.
They have also ordered women to fully cover up in public — ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“There is no good memory of the past one year. I have to think twice what to wear before stepping out to avoid a beating by Taliban,” said Marwa Naseem, a female Kabul resident.
“It also hurts to see that girls cannot go to schools, which is part of a normal life anywhere. Taliban is using religion just to prevent women from progressing.”
But Taliban spokesman Mujahid last week claimed there had been “major achievements” in the past year.
“Afghans are no more being killed in war, foreign forces have withdrawn, and security has improved,” he told reporters.