The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s international airport on Tuesday, after the last US plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war.
Vehicles carrying the Taliban raced back and forth along the Hamid Karzai International Airport’s sole runway on the northern, military side of the airfield.
Before dawn broke, heavily armed Taliban fighters walked through hangars, passing some of the seven CH-46 helicopters the State Department used in its evacuations before rendering them unflyable.
Taliban leaders later symbolically walked across the runway, marking their victory while flanked by fighters of the insurgents’ elite Badri unit.
“The world should have learned its lesson and this is the enjoyable moment of victory,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a livestream posted by a militant.
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: “God is the greatest!”
“There will be security in Kabul and people should not be concerned,” he said.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. military’s Central Command, earlier said troops “demilitarized” the system so it can never be used again. In addition, McKenzie said the U.S. also disabled 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft so they cannot be used again.
Taliban fighters draped their white flags over barriers at the airport as others guarded the civilian side of the airfield. Inside the terminal, several dozen suitcases and pieces of luggage were left strewn across the floor, apparently left behind in the chaos. Clothes and shoes also were scattered.
“Afghanistan is finally free,” said Hekmatullah Wasiq, another Taliban official. “The military and civilian side are with us and in control. Hopefully, we will be announcing our Cabinet. Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”
Wasiq also urged people to return to work.
But on Tuesday, after a night that saw the Taliban fire triumphantly into the air, guards now blearily on duty kept out the curious and those still somehow hoping to catch a flight out.
“After 20 years we have defeated the Americans,” said Mohammad Islam, a Taliban guard at the airport from Logar province, cradling a Kalashnikov rifle. “They have left and now our country is free.”
“We want Shariah (Islamic law), peace and stability,” he added.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative who oversaw America’s talks with the Taliban, wrote on Twitter that “Afghans face a moment of decision & opportunity” after the withdrawal.
At the airport’s eastern gate, a handful of Afghans still tried their luck to get in, hoping for any flight. As of now, however, commercial airlines are not flying into the airport and it remains unclear who will take over managing the country’s airspace.
On their way out, the U.S. military warned pilots the airport was “uncontrolled” and “no air traffic control or airport service are available.”
Several of those trying to come into the airport came from Kandahar province.