Taliban celebrates year since U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan



KABUL — Taliban fighters and senior leaders gathered on Wednesday for a celebration at Bagram Air Force Base, once the largest US military base in Afghanistan, to mark a year since US and NATO forces withdrew from the country.

Footage released by the Taliban media shows fighters marching in Western-style uniforms, followed by columns of armored vehicles bearing the group’s black and white flag passing one of the main airstrips. Helicopters flew above the crowd.

“We are gathered here to celebrate the first anniversary of the withdrawal,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told local media outlets attending the ceremony. “I am proud that our country was liberated on this day and that American troops had to leave Afghanistan,” he said.

Celebration, uncertainty and fear grip Kabul a year later

The departure of US troops from Afghanistan ended more than two decades of war here, but did not lead to a negotiated peace. Afghan government security forces collapsed after Taliban attacks and when the group reached Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani fled, essentially surrendering the capital.

Under the Taliban rule, Afghanistan is safer for most Afghans, but civil liberties and women’s rights are severely curtailed. The country remains internationally isolated and a growing economic crisis has plunged millions of people deeper into poverty.

In a video broadcast by the Taliban’s media wing, Mohammad Hassan Akhund, the acting prime minister, said the group was left with nothing after the previous government fell.

“The foreigners took everything with them when they left and imposed sanctions on Afghanistan that have led to poverty and hunger,” he said. But much of the military equipment flaunted in Bagram seemed to be what US and NATO forces left behind in the final days of a hasty withdrawal.

Foreign media were banned from covering the event by the Taliban, who expressed security concerns.

The US and other Western powers had hoped that economically isolating the Taliban would force the group into moderation. Such “pressure,” Akhund warned, “will yield no results,” calling instead for greater engagement with the country’s new leaders.

In central Kabul, hundreds of other Taliban fighters gathered to wave flags and spray glittering foam into the air as they cheered the country’s “independence day.”

Abdul Hakim Saih brought his five grandchildren to watch the festivities. Originally from Logar province, the family did not move to Kabul until after the Taliban takeover when Salih’s son – a Taliban fighter – took a position in the group’s intelligence services.

“In Logar, we were always on the run, moving from place to place to escape nighttime raids and bombings,” he said, explaining that the violence was particularly hard on the children. His family no longer has to fear for their safety. “It’s a better life now,” he said.

The full withdrawal of US troops began under the Trump administration, and the policy decision was confirmed by President Biden, who said the exit would be “responsible, deliberate and safe”.

But after a series of swift Taliban victories suddenly surrounded the Afghan capital, diplomats, Afghan officials and aid workers rushed to flee the country. For weeks, Kabul’s airport was engulfed in chaos as Taliban fighters broke into the presidential palace and tens of thousands rushed to escape.

Some Afghans who tried to flee but were unable to flee on the US airlift say they now feel safe under the Taliban. Others remain in hiding, fearing for their lives because of connections to US and NATO troops or activist groups. A year later, some are still hoping for a chance to get out.

A former Afghan soldier said the day marks the anniversary of his “abandonment” from the United States.

“Today I feel broken. The United States has always assured us that they would be behind us,” he said. For more than 10 years, he served as a commander in one of the elite Afghan military units that worked closely with US forces.

Like others in this report, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

During the withdrawal last year, the former officer waited outside the Kabul airport for days. “The Americans inside kept saying they would send cars to pick us up, but they never came.”

Fearing arrest or death if the Taliban found him, he fled Kabul. Over the past year he has moved from province to province and from village to village.

“Maybe it’s an independence day for the Taliban. But for me I have become like a prisoner.”

Afghan women activists described similar frustrations.

“We are confined and locked up at home, we are not allowed to study, work or engage in social activities,” said a woman in Kabul.

Another activist who fled Afghanistan after being detained for taking part in a peaceful protest said the celebrations in Kabul “are a mockery of an Independence Day”.

“I don’t know what kind of independence they’re talking about, maybe for… [the Taliban]but not the people of Afghanistan,” she said.

Speaking at the Taliban celebration in downtown Kabul, Najmullah Basirat, 25, said he feels “indifferent” about the changes over the past year. He worked for and supported the previous administration, but never wanted US and NATO troops to stay in his country forever.

“As an Afghan, I wanted foreign troops to withdraw. I don’t believe our country should ever rely on outside forces,” he said. Now he says he supports the Taliban.

As long as his country is run by Afghans and provides security and basic services, “I would support any government,” he said.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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