Drone Pilot SchoolOver 24 hours in Kabul, brutality, trauma, moments of grace

September 4, 2021by helo-10

Bone-tired like everyone else in Kabul, Taliban fighters spent the last moments of the 20-year Afghanistan war watching the night skies for the flares that would signal the United States was gone. From afar, U.S. generals watched video screens with the same anticipation.

Relief washed over the war’s winners and the losers when the final U.S. plane took off.

For those in between and left behind — possibly a majority of the allied Afghans who sought U.S. clearance to escape — fear spread about what comes next, given the Taliban’s history of ruthlessness and repression of women. And for thousands of U.S. officials and volunteers working around the world to place Afghan refugees, there is still no rest.

As witnessed by The Associated Press in Kabul and told by people interviewed from all sides, the war ended with episodes of brutality, enduring trauma, a massive if fraught humanitarian effort and moments of grace.

Enemies for two decades were thrust into a bizarre collaboration, joined in a common goal — the Taliban and the United States both wanted the U.S. out. Both sides had a stake in making the last 24 hours work.

In that stretch, the Americans worried that extremists would take aim at the transport planes as they lifted off with the last U.S. troops and officials. Instead, in the green tint of night-vision goggles, the Americans looked down to goodbye waves from Taliban fighters on the tarmac.

The Taliban had worried that the Americans would rig the airport with mines. Instead the Americans left them with functional fire trucks and front-end loaders along with a bleak panorama of self-sabotaged U.S. military machinery.

After several sleepless nights from the unrelenting thunder of U.S. evacuation flights overhead, Hemad Sherzad joined his fellow Taliban fighters in celebration from his airport post.

“We cried for almost an hour out of happiness” Sherzad told AP. “We yelled a lot — even our throat was in pain.”

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