Just one day after NATO lowered its flag in Kabul, marking the official end of the 13-year war in Afghanistan, the Taliban seized upon the occasion to declare victory, announcing Monday the "defeat" of the US-NATO joint mission.
Following the war's official conclusion Sunday, 13,000 troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) — mostly American — are set to stay in Afghanistan, but their efforts will shift away from combat and towards training local security forces.
At the flag rolling ceremony, ISAF commander General John Campbell said the mission had "lifted the Afghan people out of the darkness of despair and given them hope for the future," but a Taliban spokesman later called Sunday's event "a clear indication of [the allies'] defeat and disappointment."
"ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, according to Reuters. "The demoralized American-built forces will constantly be dealt defeats just like their masters."
Mujahid also promised the Taliban, which was accused of protecting the masterminds behind the 9/11 terror attacks and pushed out of power by NATO, would reinstall its Islamic system of government and expel the thousands of remaining troops. NATO's two-year "Resolute Support" mission, specifically aimed at training police and army personnel, is set to officially begin on January 1 and will last two years.
Under the new mission, Afghanistan will see just a tenth of the international troops remain within its borders; a significant downsizing of the some 130,000 soldiers from 50 countries stationed there at the peak of the war. Almost 3,500 foreign soldiers have been killed since the conflict began.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban launched two separate attacks Monday; one on an army checkpoint in Sangin that injured three Afghan soldiers, and a second in Helmand province leaving four soldiers dead. The violence comes as the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001 draws to a close. More than 4,600 Afghan forces were killed in 2014.
Beyond violence, Afghanistan has been been crippled by political instability following disputed presidential elections held earlier this year. As former president, Hamid Karzai, stepped down, voters cast ballots in two rounds of elections, which were overshadowed by fraud accusations flung by opposition leaders. The ballot results ultimately saw Ashraf Ghani take the top office, while competitor Abdullah Abdullah assumed the role of chief executive. A European Union report published in mid-December found electoral fraud was widespread during the June vote.