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Celebratory gunfire over Kabul, as final US troops leave

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 31: Taliban members gather and make speeches in front of Herat governorate after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Herat, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. ( Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof - Anadolu Agency )
Taliban members gather and make speeches in front of Herat governorate after the completion of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in Herat, Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 [Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof - Anadolu Agency]

Celebratory gunfire resounded across the Afghan capital today as the Taliban took control of the airport following the withdrawal of the last US troops, marking the end of a 20-year invasion that left the group stronger than it was in 2001, Reuters reports.

Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban showed fighters entering the airport after the last US troops flew out on a C-17 aircraft a minute before midnight, ending a hasty and humiliating exit for Washington and its NATO allies.

"It is a historical day and a historical moment," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference at the airport after the departure. "We are proud of these moments, that we liberated our country from a great power."

READ: UK's 20-year military presence in Afghanistan comes to an end

An image from the Pentagon taken with night-vision optics showed the last US soldier to step aboard the final evacuation flight out of Kabul – Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.

America's longest war took the lives of nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans, and cost some $2 trillion.

Although it succeeded in driving the Taliban from power and stopped Afghanistan from being used by Al-Qaeda as a base to attack the United States, it ended with the group controlling more territory than when they last ruled.

US withdraws from Afghanistan, where is this heading to...- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

US withdraws from Afghanistan, where is this heading to…- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

During those years, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban brutally enforced their strict interpretation of Islamic law, not least by oppressing women, and the world watches now to see if the movement will form a more moderate and inclusive government in the months ahead.

Long lines formed in Kabul on Tuesday outside banks shuttered since the fall of the city as people tried to get money to pay for increasingly expensive food.

There was a mixture of triumph and elation on the one side as the Taliban celebrated their victory and fear on the other.

"I had to go to the bank with my mother but when I went, the Taliban [were] beating women with sticks," said a 22-year-old woman who spoke on condition of anonymity because she feared for her safety.

She said the attack occurred among a crowd outside a branch of the Azizi Bank next to the Kabul Star Hotel in the centre of the capital.

"It's the first time I've seen something like that and it really frightened me."

Thousands of Afghans have already fled the country, fearing Taliban reprisals.

More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in a massive but chaotic airlift by the United States and its allies over the past two weeks, but many of those who helped Western nations during the war were left behind.

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A contingent of Americans, estimated by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at fewer than 200, and possibly closer to 100, wanted to leave but were unable to get on the last flights.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab put the number of UK nationals in Afghanistan in the low hundreds, following the evacuation of some 5,000.

The Taliban must now revive a war-shattered economy without the foreign aid running into billions of dollars that had flowed to the previous ruling elite and fed systemic corruption.

People living outside the cities face what UN officials have called a catastrophic humanitarian situation, worsened by a severe drought.

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