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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the victory of his group 'belongs to us all' [Rahmat Gul/AP]

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US troops' exit complete, Taliban declares 'full independence'


Washington: The Taliban has proclaimed 'full independence' for Afghanistan after the last US soldiers flew out following 20 years of war. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said early Tuesday that American soldiers left the Kabul airport, and our nation got its full independence while Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official, said he was "proud" to witness "these historic moments".

Celebratory gunfire rang out in Kabul in the early hours of Tuesday, and elated senior Taliban officials hailed the event as a watershed moment.

Taliban fighters watched the last US planes disappear into the night sky around midnight on Monday and then fired their guns into the air, celebrating victory after a 20-year insurgency in Afghanistan that drove the world's most powerful military out of one of the poorest countries.

The departure of the cargo planes marked the end of a massive airlift in which tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan, fearful of the return of Taliban rule after they took over most of the country and rolled into the capital earlier this month.

"The last five aircraft have left, it's over! said Hemad Sherzad, a Taliban fighter stationed at Kabul's international airport.

I cannot express my happiness in words. ... Our 20 years of sacrifice worked. In Washington, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, announced the completion of America's longest war and the evacuation effort, saying the last planes took off from Kabul airport at 3,29 p.m. EDT one minute before midnight Monday in Kabul.

"I'm here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens," US General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters Monday at Washington time.

"Tonight's withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after September 11th, 2001."

The withdrawal came after the fraught final days of a frantic mission to evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans who had helped the US-led war effort -- and which left scores of Afghans and 13 US troops dead in a suicide attack last week.

That attack -- claimed by ISIS's Afghan offshoot -- gave edgy urgency to the risky US-led international airlift from Kabul, and also revealed the possible troubles ahead for Afghanistan as the Taliban moves to form a government and actually rule.

The withdrawal came before the end of August 31, the actual deadline set by President Joe Biden to call time on America's longest war -- one that ultimately claimed the lives of more than 2,400 US service members.

The final flight left at 1929 GMT Monday - just before the start of Tuesday in Kabul, he said.

US President Joe Biden said he would address the nation on Tuesday in Washington.

The Taliban has seized most of the country in a matter of days earlier this month.

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