KABUL, Afghanistan—The Taliban terrorist group on Monday marked a year since they seized the Afghan capital in a rapid takeover that triggered a hasty escape of the nation’s Western-backed leaders, sent the economy into a tailspin and fundamentally transformed the country.
Taliban fighters, some hoisting rifles or the white banners of their movement, staged victory parades on foot, bicycles, and motorcycles in the streets of Kabul.
A year after the dramatic day, much has changed in Afghanistan. The Taliban terrorists struggle to govern and remain internationally isolated. The economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and even hunger, as the flow of foreign aid slowed to a trickle.
The U.N. humanitarian chief for Afghanistan warned that unless donors provide $2.6 billion very soon the country faces “pure catastrophe” over the coming winter with millions of lives at stake.
Ramiz Alakbarov told a virtual news conference from Kabul that the U.N.’s $4.4 billion humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan this year has received only about $1.8 billion, leaving a $2.6 billion gap in funding for desperately needed food and other aid.
He said over 90 million people in Afghanistan are “food insecure,” around 35 million are living in poverty, and 6.6 million are classified in the emergency level just one step from famine.
Alakbarov said he just visited several hospitals and saw “heartbreaking scenes” of malnourished children who will not survive the winter without additional support.
While the Afghan people are known for their resilience and ability to survive, he said, unfortunately “negative coping strategies” including the selling of organs and the selling of children will be seen again “if support is not provided.”
Meanwhile, hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led regime, which imposed severe restrictions on access to education and jobs for girls and women, despite initial promises to the contrary. A year on, teenage girls are still barred from school and women are required to cover themselves head-to-toe in public, with only the eyes showing.
Some are trying to find ways to keep education from stalling for a generation of young women and underground schools in homes have sprung up.
A year ago, thousands of Afghans had rushed to Kabul International Airport to flee the Taliban amid the U.S. military’s chaotic withdrawal from Kabul after 20 years of war—America’s longest conflict.
Some flights resumed relatively quickly after those chaotic days. On Monday, a handful of commercial flights were scheduled to land and take off from a runway that last summer saw Afghan men clinging to the wheels of planes taking off, some falling to their death.
Schoolyards stood empty Monday as the Taliban announced a public holiday to mark the day, which they refer to as “The Proud Day of Aug. 15″ and the “First Anniversary of the Return to Power.”
During a gathering to mark the anniversary, the Taliban deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, offered congratulations to “the entire nation on the day of the conquest of Kabul, which was the beginning of the complete end of the occupation.”
On the eve of the anniversary, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani defended what he said was a split-second decision to flee, saying he wanted to avoid the humiliation of surrender to the terrorists. He told CNN that on the morning of Aug. 15, 2021, with the Taliban at the gates of Kabul, he was the last one at the presidential palace after his guards had disappeared.
Tomas Niklasson, the European Union’s special envoy to Afghanistan, said the bloc of nations remains committed to the Afghan people and to “stability, prosperity, and sustainable peace in Afghanistan and the region.”
“This will require an inclusive political process with full, equal, and meaningful participation of all Afghan men and women and respect for human rights,” Niklasson wrote.