NEWS
31/08/2021 21:02 BST | Updated 31/08/2021 21:02 BST

Astonishing Images As The US Withdraws From Afghanistan And The Taliban Takes Control

Following celebratory gunfire, the new regime declares victory.

The withdrawal of the last US troops from the Afghan capital of Kabul marked the end of a 20-year war – and prompted celebratory gunfire across the city as the Taliban took control.

It was one of a series of astonishing images that emerged as the last American service member flew out on a C-17 aircraft a minute before midnight on August 31 – ending a hasty and humiliating exit for America and its Western allies.

A picture released by 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.

US ARMY via Reuters
US Army Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, steps on board a C-17 transport plane.

Soon after the last foreign forces withdrew, Taliban leaders walked victorious through Kabul airport, flanked by guards dressed in special forces combat kit inspecting US military equipment.

The departing US troops destroyed more than 70 aircraft and dozens of armoured vehicles. They also disabled air defences that had thwarted an attempted Islamic State rocket attack on the eve of their departure.

Shaky video footage distributed by the Taliban showed fighters entering a hangar at the airport. Images were also captured by a Los Angeles Times correspondent and photographer, who have been accompanying the Taliban fighters,  showing the fighters examining the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter and celebrating.

Marcus Yam via Getty Images
Taliban fighters from the Fateh Zwak unit wielding American supplied weapons, equipment and uniforms, storm into Kabul airport to secure the airport and inspect the equipment that was left behind.
Marcus Yam via Getty Images
Taliban fighters from the Fateh Zwak unit celebrate before storming into the Kabul International Airport, wielding American supplied weapons, equipment and uniforms after the United States Military have completed their withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Although America and its allies succeeded in driving the Taliban from power and stopped Afghanistan being used by al Qaeda as a base to attack the US, it ended with the hardline militants controlling more territory than when they last ruled.

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

“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.”

TALIBAN HANDOUT via via REUTERS
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks to Badri 313 military unit at Kabul's airport.
WAKIL KOHSAR via Getty Images

Away from the airport, long lines formed in Kabul on Tuesday outside banks shuttered since the fall of the capital as people tried to get money to pay for increasingly expensive food.

While there was scenes of triumph and elation on one side of the city as the Taliban celebrated their victory, there was 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.”

AAMIR QURESHI via Getty Images
Afghans queue up as they wait for the banks to open and operate at a commercial area in Kabul.

Other images shared online on Tuesday showed Taliban members walking through Kabul airport in US-supplied fatigues, some brandishing gleaming rifles and others trying out state-of-the-art night vision goggles or sizing up US helicopters.

WAKIL KOHSAR via Getty Images
Taliban fighters sit in the cockpit of an Afghan Air Force aircraft at the airport in Kabul.
via Associated Press
Taliban special forces fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the US military's withdrawal.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Taliban take control of Hamid Karzai International Airport after the completion of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Stringer . via Reuters
Taliban forces patrol at a runway a day after US troops withdraw from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Following the withdrawal of the last troops, there were anti-Western celebrations elsewhere in the country.

Taliban supporters paraded coffins draped with American and NATO flags in the eastern city of Khost on Tuesday.

The mock funeral also saw coffins covered in French and British flags carried along the street through a large crowd.

Some of the crowd held guns aloft, while others waved Taliban flags or snapped the procession on mobile phones.

ZHMAN TV via ZHMAN TV via REUTERS
Crowd carries makeshift coffins draped in NATO's, US and a Union Jack flags during a mock funeral on a street in Khost, Afghanistan.

“August 31 is our formal Freedom Day. On this day, American occupying forces and NATO forces fled the country,” Taliban official Qari Saeed Khosti told local television station Zhman TV during its coverage of the event.

Footage from Khost was shared widely on social media on Tuesday alongside other videos – including a man dangling from a US-made Black Hawk helicopter circling above Afghanistan’s second-city Khandahar, which could not be verified by news agencies.