The Taliban celebrated the first anniversary of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan on Wednesday with victory chants and a military parade of equipment left behind by US-led troops.
Afghanistan’s new rulers – who are not formally recognized by any other country – have re-imposed their harsh version of Islamic law on the impoverished country, driving women from public life.
Despite the restrictions and a mounting humanitarian crisis, many Afghans say they are happy that the foreign forces that sparked the Taliban insurgency have left after a brutal 20-year war.
“We are happy that Allah has expelled the infidels from our country and that the Islamic Emirate has been established,” said Zalmai, a resident of Kabul.
In a statement, the government said the day marked “the freedom of the country from the American occupation.”
“So many mujahideen were injured, so many children were orphaned and so many women became widows.”
Authorities held an official celebration with a military parade at Bagram Air Base, the nerve center of US operations during the war.
Groups of Taliban fighters – dressed in traditional shalwar kameez and carrying rocket-propelled grenades – marched as helicopters flew by, video footage broadcast by state television showed.
Minutes later, dozens of military vehicles, including humvees and artillery tanks, seized in the war or left behind by US forces during their chaotic retreat were paraded.
Foreign media were not allowed access to the event.
Celebrations were also held in several provinces, with locals reading poems and verses from the Holy Quran.
Banners flew in Kabul celebrating victories over three empires – the former Soviet Union and Britain also lost wars in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of white Taliban flags proclaiming the Islamic faith flew from lampposts and government buildings, while squares in the capital were decorated with lights.
Residents of Kabul chose to stay indoors after authorities declared a national holiday, but hundreds of Taliban fighters gathered in Massoud Square, next to the now-closed US embassy.
“Death to America! Death to occupation! Long live freedom!” cried the warriors.
“The flag of Islam is flying high. We are happy to live under the banner of Islam,” Taliban fighter Shah Ahmad Omari told AFP.
On Tuesday night, the sky over Kabul was lit up with fireworks and celebratory gunfire from crowds of Taliban fighters.
The plane carrying the last American troops took off from Kabul on August 31 last year just a minute before midnight.
That departure ended America’s longest war, which began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
More than 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 civilians were killed in the conflict, but it was the deaths of US servicemen – 2,461 in all – that became too much for the American public.
“However, the burden of the war in Afghanistan extended beyond the Americans,” the US military said on Tuesday.
More than 3,500 troops from other NATO countries were also killed.
Thousands of civilians were also killed in horrific bomb and gun attacks by the Taliban during the war.
‘Not a good memory’
Two weeks before the end of last year’s withdrawal, the Taliban seized power after a lightning strike against government forces.
Taliban social media accounts posted videos and photos of newly trained troops — many flaunting gear left behind by the US military.
“This is how you troll a superpower after humiliating them and forcing them to withdraw from your country,” tweeted a photo of a giant Taliban flag now painted on the wall of the former US embassy .
Despite the Taliban’s pride in taking power, Afghanistan’s 38 million people are facing a desperate humanitarian crisis — exacerbated after billions of dollars in assets were frozen and foreign aid dried up.
The hardships for ordinary Afghans, especially women, have increased.
The Taliban have closed high schools for girls in many provinces and barred women from many government jobs.
They have also ordered women to cover themselves completely in public – ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“There is no good memory of the past year. I have to think twice about what to wear before going out to avoid being beaten by the Taliban,” said Marwa Naseem, a female resident of Kabul.
“It also hurts to see that girls can’t go to school, which is part of a normal life everywhere. The Taliban only use religion to prevent women from progressing.”
But government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid last week claimed that “great successes” had been achieved in the past year.
“Afghans are no longer killed in wars, foreign troops have withdrawn and security has improved,” he told reporters.