The Taliban prepared on Wednesday to stage a parade showcasing some of the military hardware they captured during their takeover of Afghanistan, after President Joe Biden defended his decision to end the two-decade war.
The Islamist hardliners celebrated the US withdrawal, which was completed on Monday, as a major victory after taking control of Afghanistan last month following a bloody insurgency.
A long line of green Humvees idled in single file on a highway outside Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the terrorist movement, many with white-and-black Taliban flags attached to aerials, an AFP journalist saw.
In footage posted on a pro-Taliban account of the build-up of the parade, a helicopter flew overhead, trailing the Taliban’s standard beneath it as fighters wrapped in headscarves waved beneath.
At least one Black Hawk helicopter has been seen flying over Kandahar in recent days, suggesting someone from the former Afghan army was at the controls as the Taliban lack qualified pilots.
The United Nations warned, meanwhile, of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe”, underscoring the daunting challenges that the Taliban face as they transform from insurgent group to governing power.
US President Joe Biden was nonetheless defiant.
“This is the right decision. A wise decision. And the best decision for America,” President Biden said in an address to the nation.
For America, President Biden argued, the only choice was “leaving or escalating.”
The president, who has been savaged by critics for his handling of the withdrawal which saw the US and its allies evacuate more than 122,000 in just over two weeks, as an “extraordinary success.”
“No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history; only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it,” he said.
All eyes will now turn to how the Taliban handle their first few days with sole authority over the country, with a sharp focus on whether they will allow free departure for those wanting to leave — including some foreigners.
The US has said that “under 200” of its citizens remain in the country, and Britain said the number of UK nationals inside was in the “low hundreds.”