US era ends with Taliban gunfire, diplomacy vow

Celebratory gunfire resounded across Kabul yesterday as Taliban fighters took control of the airport before dawn, following the withdrawal of the last US troops, marking the end of a 20-year war that left the Islamist militia stronger than it was in 2001.

Shaky footage showed fighters entering the airport after the last US troops flew out, 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 said. “We liberated our country from a great power.”

America’s longest war took the lives of nearly 2,500 US troops and an estimated 240,000 Afghans and cost some US$2 trillion (HK$15.6 trillion).

The world watches now to see if the Taliban form -*+a more moderate and inclusive government than the one it saw between 1996 and 2001.

Thousands of Afghans have already fled. 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 thousands who helped the Western nations were left behind.

General Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said: “There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure. We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out. But if we’d stayed another 10 days, we wouldn’t have gotten everybody out.”

The leaving US troops destroyed more than 70 aircraft, dozens of armored vehicles and disabled air defenses that had thwarted an attempted Islamic State rocket attack on the eve of their departure.

US President Joe Biden defended his decision to stick to the withdrawal deadline. He said the world would hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow safe passage for those wanting to leave Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, China said the US pullout signaled that Afghanistan has “turned a new page.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: “The Afghan people have ushered in a new beginning for national peace and reconstruction.”

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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