The Taliban, newly armed with an array of weaponry following the chaotic withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan, has released a photo mocking the Americans.
A little-known Taliban fighting unit, the Badri 313 Battalion, has been seen patrolling parts of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul in newly released propaganda videos.
The videos showed heavily armed Taliban soldiers carrying US-made and other weapons that appeared to be stolen from various allied militaries.
The Taliban has seized control of various helicopters and light attack aircraft, including 35 American Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
In one propaganda photo, the Badri 313 Battalion appeared to be mocking one of the most significant and recognisable images of World War II – the Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.
Taliban fighters are typically seen wearing turbans and vests over shalwar kameez clothing while carrying old Soviet guns, many from the Soviet-Afghan War which happened from 1979-89.
The elite Badri 313 special unit, however, makes Taliban soldiers look similar to US soldiers, wearing tactical helmets — some with night-vision goggles — as well as camouflage, combat boots, and body armour while carrying M4 carbine assault rifles and driving around in armoured Humvees.
M4s are made by US-based Colt’s Manufacturing Company which designed and produced the weapons for US armed forces.
The chaotic way in which the US withdrew meant the Taliban was able to secure all kinds of supplies.
It will also potentially be able to tap into the estimated $3 trillion worth of rare earth minerals in the country.
”Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,” one official told Reuters on the basis of anonymity.
The Badri 313 Battalion existed before this month’s fall of Afghanistan but was comprised of various militia groups, all of which now operate for the Taliban.
The group takes its name from the Battle of Badr, which happened on March 13, 624 A.D., when the Islamic Prophet Muhammad led a victorious battle with 313 men.
Chaotic and dangerous bid to evacuate people
Six days after the Taliban swept to power, tens of thousands of people were still trying to leave the country in what has been dubbed one of the most difficult airlifts in history.
As desperate people, including children, wait for hours and days in the heat and crush outside the US-controlled Hamid Karzai International Airport, the delay has turned deadly for some.
Britain’s Sky News on Saturday aired footage of at least three dead bodies covered in white tarpaulins outside the airport. It was not clear how they had died.
Sky reporter Stuart Ramsay, who was at the airport, called the deaths “inevitable” and said that people at the front of one part of the crowd were being “crushed”, while others were “dehydrated and terrified”.
The footage was the latest image of utter despair, after video of a baby being lifted over a wall at the airport and horror scenes of people hanging onto departing planes.
Families hoping for a miracle crowded between the barbed-wire that surrounds an unofficial no man’s land separating the Taliban from US troops. Roads to the airport were choked with traffic.
“Please, please, please help me … where should I go, what should I do,” one man, who said he worked for the US embassy in the mid-2000s, wrote on a WhatsApp group for people to share information on how to get out.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby conveyed a sense of urgency as the military aims to complete the evacuations by August 31.
“We know that we’re fighting against both time and space,” he said. Others saw it as another losing battle.
“They want to evacuate 60,000 people between now and the end of this month. It’s mathematically impossible,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
Speaking to AFP, Borrell added that “we have complained” to the Americans that their airport security was overly strict and hampering attempts by Afghans who worked for the Europeans to enter.
“Planes are leaving while people are still on the tarmac,” he said.
President Biden has said the deadline could be extended for the airlifts. Mr Borrell said that as far as he knew that decision had not yet been made.
The United States urged its citizens still in Afghanistan to avoid the airport unless told otherwise, citing “potential security threats” near its gates.
A White House official later confirmed that aides had briefed President Biden on “counter-terrorism operations” in Afghanistan, including against the Islamic State group, which remains active in Kabul.
Up to 15,000 Americans need to be evacuated and the administration hopes to get out a further 50-60,000 Afghan allies and their families. Other countries are also hoping to save thousands of people.
On Saturday the Pentagon said 17,000 people had been taken out since the operation began on August 14, including 2,500 Americans.
Thousands more have fled on other foreign military flights.
Mountainous Panjshir Valley still holding out
Outside the airport, Taliban leaders gathered in the Afghan capital Saturday to begin mapping out an “inclusive government”.
A senior Taliban official told AFP that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — who co-founded the group — would meet jihadi leaders, elders and politicians in coming days.
But the gathering also included top officials from the Haqqani network, a US-designated terrorist organisation with million-dollar bounties on its leadership.
The mountainous Panjshir Valley remains the only holdout against the Taliban after the hard line Islamists took control of Afghanistan.
This week the son of the late, famed anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud called for a new resistance.
AFP images showed uniformed Afghan troops drilling in Panjshir on Saturday. But, also on Saturday, pro-Taliban social media feeds posted a video of Khalil Haqqani of the Haqqani network claiming Massoud’s son had “declared allegiance” to the new Islamic emirate.
There has been no statement from Massoud.
Government employees stopped
The Taliban swept into Kabul last week, ending two decades of war, stunning the world as government forces surrendered en masse.
It has promised “positively different” rule from their 1996-2001 stint in power, infamous for an ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law, and vowed not to seek revenge on Afghans who worked with the US-backed government.
But an intelligence document for the United Nations said militants were going door-to-door hunting former government officials and those who worked with US and NATO forces.
While searching for a Deutsche Welle journalist, the Taliban shot dead his uncle, the German public broadcaster reported.
On Saturday government employees in Kabul were blocked by Taliban militants from returning to their offices.
There was one scene of normality in the capital made surreal by the chaos and fear surrounding it: Afghanistan’s national cricket team were pictured Saturday at a training session in Kabul.
They are due to meet Pakistan for a one-day series set to take place in Sri Lanka in two weeks.
– With Fox News and AFP