The Taliban celebrated the US withdrawal from Afghanistan with fireworks and gunfire early Tuesday — as the insurgents also stormed Kabul airport and examined the helicopters, weapons and military uniforms abandoned by the US in its frantic final exit.
The sound of gunfire and cheers erupted at multiple Taliban checkpoints throughout the city and at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport after the final five US military transport planes lifted out of Afghanistan.
Just minutes after the final US troops vacated Kabul’s airport, the Taliban stormed in and triumphantly stood on the tarmac as the militants pledged to secure the country.
Footage released by the Taliban showed heavily armed fighters examining multiple Chinook helicopters, vehicles and weapons left behind by US troops following the frantic mass evacuations over the last two weeks that cost the lives of 13 US service members and more than 180 Afghans.
A huge pile of US military uniforms was spotted dumped in the middle of an airport hangar.
Some Taliban fighters posed for photos inside the abandoned military aircraft and one video appeared to show the Taliban flying a Black Hawk helicopter over the streets of Kandahar.
Footage showed some heavily armed fighters praying on the tarmac as others cheered. At one point, an overexcited Taliban member fell off the back of a crowded truck as they raced up and down the runway.
“All the American troops have left Afghanistan, we are very happy — you can listen to the celebratory fire,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told Agence France-Presse after they stormed the airport.
Hamid Karzai had become a US-controlled island as the chaotic evacuations ramped up in the last two weeks.
Of the equipment left behind, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said troops had disabled 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft prior to leaving so they cannot be used again.
As Taliban leaders walked across the tarmac Tuesday, they vowed to quickly reopen the airport.
“Our technical team will be checking the technical and logistical needs of the airport,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Afghan state television.
“If we are able to fix everything on our own, then we won’t need any help. If there is need for technical or logistics help to repair the destruction, then we might ask help from Qatar or Turkey.”
He did not elaborate on what had been destroyed. The airport had been the center of deadly chaos ever since the Taliban seized control of the war-torn country on Aug. 15.
The arrival of the Taliban inside the airport came just hours after the US wrapped up its largest airlift of non-combatants in history.
To mark the end of the 20-year war, the US released an image of Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the US. Army 82nd Airborne Division who was coordinating the evacuation from Afghanistan, boarding a military aircraft.
The last C-17 plane had left Kabul’s airport at 11:59 p.m. local time just ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops from the country.
More than 79,000 civilians had been flown out of the airport on US military aircraft since Aug. 14 — including 6,000 Americans and 73,500 Afghans and third-country citizens, according to McKenzie.
He acknowledged that a number of American citizens, likely numbering in “the very low hundreds,” were left behind as the troops departed but said he believes they will still be able to leave the country.
“We did not get out everybody we had wanted to get out,” McKenzie said Monday. “There are Americans for a variety of reasons who want to stay for a while.”
It brought an end to America’s longest war that lasted 19 years and 47 weeks, cost some $2 trillion and took the lives of nearly 2,500 US troops and about 240,000 Afghans.
President Biden had pledged to end what he called a “forever war” that began after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Biden, who has drawn heavy criticism for the chaotic and deadly withdrawal, defended his decision in a statement Monday as he thanked the US military for carrying out the dangerous evacuations.
He added the world would hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow safe passage for those wanting to leave Afghanistan.
“Now, our 20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” Biden said.
He plans to address the American people Tuesday afternoon.
With Post wires