Now in control of quiet Kabul airport, insurgent group’s leaders symbolically walk on the runway, say they want ‘good relations with the US and the world’
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban held full control of Kabul’s international airport Tuesday after the last US plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war and leaving behind a now-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 on the military side, passing some of the seven CH-46 helicopters the US State Department used in its evacuations before rendering them unflyable.
Taliban leaders later symbolically walked across the runway, marking their victory.
“Congratulations to Afghanistan… this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters from the runway of the airport.
The defeat of America was a “big lesson for other invaders and for our future generation,” Mujahid said a number of hours after the last foreign troops departed Afghanistan.
He said “it is also a lesson for the world,” but added that the Taliban wants “to have good relations with the US and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all.”
The airport had seen chaotic scenes since the Taliban blitzed across Afghanistan and took Kabul on August 15. Thousands of Afghans besieged the airport, some falling to their death after desperately hanging onto the side of an American C-17 military cargo jet. Last week, an Islamic State suicide attack at an airport gate killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 US service members.
But on Tuesday, after a night that saw Taliban fighters 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.”
He added: “It’s clear what we want. We want Sharia (Islamic law), peace and stability.”
Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, similarly praised the takeover in an online video early Tuesday.