Taliban fighters and their supporters rallied across Afghanistan to celebrate the end of 20 years of foreign military presence on Tuesday, pledging to implement strict Islamic rule, as ordinary Afghans, many of them bewildered and scared, grappled with the uncertain future ahead. Senior figures in the Islamist movement posed in front of a C-130 transport plane at the Kabul airport, the hub of a chaotic U.S.-led evacuation operation in recent days.
“We hope that Afghanistan will not be invaded again, that it will be rebuilt, remain independent, and that a holy Islamic system will rule,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, as uniformed fighters in modern combat gear knelt on the tarmac and chanted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.”
The Taliban returned to Kabul as a result of a successful 20-year insurgency that left tens of thousands of people dead. The group has already received congratulations for its comeback from scores of Islamist movements around the world, including those that Washington classifies as terrorist.
The Taliban said the gathering discussed “Forming the new Islamic government in the country,” but didn’t provide details.
Though the Taliban committed to seek a peaceful settlement for Afghanistan in the February 2020 agreement signed with the Trump administration in Doha, Qatar, the Islamist movement overthrew the Afghan republic by military force on Aug. 15-though American troops still remained in the country.
For the past two weeks, Taliban units deployed in an uneasy cooperation with U.S. troops around the Kabul airport as Washington and its allies flew out some 122,000 foreign citizens and Afghans who feared persecution by the country’s new rulers.
The Taliban also have to contend with the threat posed by the more radical Islamic State, which carried out last week one of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the war, killing 13 U.S. troops and some 200 Afghans.