Kabul (AFP) -
The Taliban on Wednesday paraded some of the military hardware they captured during their takeover of Afghanistan, as a team from Qatar landed at the trashed airport in Kabul -- a first step towards getting the facility back up and running as a lifeline for aid.
The Qatar Airways flight, the first to land at Hamid Karzai International Airport since the US withdrew all troops from Afghanistan late Monday, brought a team of technical experts to work on the airport, a source close to the matter told AFP.
The goal was to resume flights for aid, as the United Nations warns of a looming 'humanitarian catastrophe' in war-ravaged Afghanistan, and to provide freedom of movement for those wanting to flee the new regime.
Talks are ongoing on who will now run the airport, just one of the many daunting challenges facing the Taliban as they transition from insurgent group to governing power.
The Islamist hardliners -- who have not yet announced their new government -- are celebrating the US withdrawal as a historic victory after taking control of Afghanistan a fortnight before.
Their arrival in Kabul capped an astonishing two-week offensive across the country, putting an end to their 20-year insurgency.
On Wednesday, a long line of green Humvees and armoured fighting vehicles drove in single file along a highway outside Kandahar -- the spiritual birthplace of the militant movement -- many flying white-and-black Taliban flags, an AFP journalist saw.
In footage posted on a pro-Taliban account of the build-up to the parade, a helicopter flew overhead trailing the Taliban's standard as fighters wrapped in headscarves waved beneath.
At least one Black Hawk helicopter has been seen flying over Kandahar in recent days, suggesting someone from the former Afghan army was at the controls as the Taliban lack pilots.
Word had spread that the Taliban's secretive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, who the group has said is living in Kandahar, would make an appearance -- but he did not show, leaving the city's new governor to address the crowd.
- 'Our business' -
The scenes of Taliban triumph came hours after US President Joe Biden gave a defiant speech defending the decision to end America's longest war, and the frenzied evacuation effort that ensued as the Afghan government collapsed.
Leaving was 'the best decision for America,' Biden said in an address to the nation in Washington on Tuesday, arguing that the only other option had been 'escalating.'
The president, who has been savaged by critics for his handling of the withdrawal which saw the US and its allies evacuate more than 122,000 in just over two weeks, hailed the operation as an 'extraordinary success'.
'No nation has ever done anything like it in all of history,' he said.
Many thousands of Afghans who fear Taliban retribution were left behind, however.
On Wednesday, the president of the European Parliament warned that the European Union must prepare for the influx of Afghan migrants who are expected to flee the Taliban regime.
'We cannot pretend that Afghanistan is not our business because we participated in that mission,' David Sassoli told a conference in Slovenia.
- Women sidelined -
Many Afghans are terrified of a repeat of the Taliban's initial rule from 1996 to 2001, which was infamous for their treatment of women and girls, as well as a brutal justice system.
The group has repeatedly promised a more tolerant brand of governance this time around.
On Wednesday they even approved Afghanistan's first cricket Test match since their takeover, raising hopes that international matches -- long a bright spot for the country -- will continue under the Islamists' rule.
Still, senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai told BBC Pashto in an interview that while women could continue working, there 'may not' be a place for them in the cabinet of any future government or any other top post.
The US-led airlift began as the Taliban completed an astonishing rout of government forces and took over Kabul on August 15.
The final withdrawal came just before the August 31 deadline set by Biden to end the war, which began with a US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
The conflict has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 2,400 American service members.