The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s international airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war and leaving behind a quiet airfield and Afghans outside it still hoping to flee the insurgents’ rule.
Vehicles 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.
Later speaking to Al-Jazeera Arabic on the airport’s tarmac, Mujahid rejected having a caretaker government and insisted that Kabul remained safe.
“There will be security in Kabul and people should not be concerned,” he said.
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. A poster of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed anti-Taliban fighter, had been destroyed.