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Taliban show off captured weapons at Kandahar victory parade


CNN

By Jonny Hallam and Mick Krever, CNN

The Taliban on Wednesday showed off dozens of American-made armored vehicles along with newly seized weapons at victory celebrations in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

In videos posted on social media, the Taliban paraded hardware left behind by both Afghan and US forces after the withdrawal of the last American troops left Afghanistan in the grip of the militant group.

Fighters waved white Taliban flags from Humvees and armored SUVs at the military parade, where many of the vehicles appeared in near perfect condition. The Taliban also organized an air display with a recently seized Black Hawk helicopter flying past the militants along the road while also trailing a white Taliban flag.

The parade came the day after video footage showed the militants making their way through an abandoned hangar in Kabul airport strewn with equipment the US left behind.

In one video, militants dressed in US-style uniforms and holding US-made weapons examined a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter parked inside a hangar. Taliban fighters were also seen posing for photographs while sitting in the cockpits of planes and helicopters that once belonged to the Afghan Air Force.

But Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN Tuesday he wasn’t “overly concerned about these images” of Taliban fighters examining the abandoned aircraft.

“They can inspect all they want,” Kirby said. “They can look at them, they can walk around — but they can’t fly them. They can’t operate them.”

He added that the US military had made “unusable all the gear that is at the airport — all the aircraft, all the ground vehicles,” leaving only some fire trucks and fork lifts operational.

Efforts to reopen Kabul airport resumed on Wednesday as a team of Qatari technical experts arrived in the Afghan capital, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN.

The source said that the technical team traveled to Kabul on a Qatari jet at the request of the Taliban, and that while no final agreement had yet been reached, “talks are still ongoing at the level of security and operation.”

“The objective is to resume flights in and out of Kabul for humanitarian assistance and freedom of movement in a safe and secure manner.”

Afghanistan is heavily reliant on foreign aid, and the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have already struggled to get critical food and medical supplies to the airport amid the mass evacuation operation.

Even before the political upheaval of recent weeks, Afghanistan represented the world’s third-largest humanitarian concern, with over 18 million people requiring assistance, according to UNICEF. But with no commercial aircraft currently permitted to land in Kabul, getting aid in will be difficult.

Restarting commercial flights will also be crucial for people still wanting to leave the country but who did not make it onto military evacuation planes.

More than 123,000 people were evacuated by American and coalition aircraft since August 14, US Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie said Monday.

The Taliban have pledged to govern more moderately this time around, and said they would still allow foreign nationals and Afghans with proper documentation to leave the country after August 31. But many Afghans are skeptical of their claims, and huge question marks hang over the Taliban’s ability to run the country.

Standing on the Kabul airport runway on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a small crowd that: “This victory belongs to us all.”

He was joined by heavily armed fighters from the Taliban’s Badri 313 special forces brigade, kitted out in camouflage uniforms and desert boots.

Mujahid congratulated the Taliban fighters who had lined up, and indeed “the whole of the nation.”

Only one Afghan region is still holding out against the Taliban’s rule: the Panjshir Valley — a strategic slice of territory about 90 miles north of Kabul that was once a stronghold for the mujahideen fighting the Soviets and is now the seat of the resistance movement.

Ali Nazary, spokesperson for the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front (NRF) of Afghanistan, said Wednesday that NRF forces had inflicted heavy casualties on Taliban attackers attempting to fight their way into Panjshir via the Gulbahar area, damaging the militant group’s weaponry and sending them retreating.

“Negotiations have stopped, they have reached an impasse,” Nazary said. “They tried attacking from two directions, one the north and one in the south.”

It was not possible for CNN to independently verify the intensity of the fighting or the total number of casualties on both sides. The emergency hospital, a surgical center for war victims in Kabul, said on Twitter it had received five wounded patients and four people dead on arrival following fighting in Gulbahar.

Top Taliban leadership have not acknowledged heavy fighting in the region. In an audio message released Wednesday, Amir Khan Muttaqi, a Taliban leader, called on Panjshiris to accept an amnesty and avoid fighting, but acknowledged that negotiations had thus far yielded no result.

Correction: A previous version of this story included a card image from Kabul not Kandahar. This has been fixed.

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