On August 15, 2021, forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban) advanced on the outskirts of the country’s capital of Kabul after conquering most of Afghanistan in the space of a week. Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters landed atop the U.S. Embassy in the capital to evacuate personnel to Kabul International Airport, as Afghans and foreigners scrambled to flee the country.
On the same day, Taliban fighters also took control of the Parwan Detention Facility, located at the Bagram air base, which was the largest American base in Afghanistan until U.S. forces handed it over to the Afghan government on July 1, 2021, in advance of their withdrawal from the country. The prison, which previously housed detainees captured by U.S. forces, was transferred to the Afghan forces in September 2012. When the government forces surrendered to the Taliban, the prison held about 5,000 inmates, including Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. Taliban forces also captured the Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul, the largest prison in the country, and released the prisoners from both facilities.
Later that day, the Taliban swept into Kabul and entered the city’s vacated Presidential Palace, only hours after U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani fled the country to an undisclosed location.
Jihadis outside Afghanistan, among them pro-Al-Qaeda clerics, supporters of Al-Qaeda, and Syrian jihadis, including members of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), celebrated reports of the Taliban’s advances, viewing them as signifying the jihadi group’s victory over the U.S. and praising the Taliban for its persistent jihad which, it says, made these victories possible. HTS fighters even distributed sweets to local drivers to celebrate “the victory which the Taliban movement achieved in Afghanistan.” It should be noted that Syrian jihadis in particular view the Taliban approach of combining armed jihad with negotiations from a position of strength as a model they seek to adopt to consolidate their position.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of social media posts have been shared by jihadis in recent days in praise of the Taliban. This report focuses on four specific topics: The Taliban’s takeover of prisons housing mujahideen and the release of their inmates; its takeover of the Presidential Palace in Kabul; comparisons between the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the 1975 evacuation of its embassy in Saigon following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam; and discussions about the billions of dollars the U.S. has spent to arm and train Afghan government forces.
Jihadis Celebrate Takeovers of Taliban Prisons, Release of Inmates from Former U.S. Prison
Holding up to 1,700 detainees when controlled by the U.S. forces – including Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, many of whom were allegedly tortured and abused by their captors – Bagram prison became notorious among jihadis, who celebrated its capture by the Taliban.
In a Telegram post published on August 15, the pro-Al-Qaeda Al-Hikmah Media Foundation reacts with joy to news of the Taliban’s takeover of the “infamous Bagram prison” and the release of its inmates, using the hashtag #Afghanistan_is_being_liberated.
Another pro-Al-Qaeda Telegram channel, ‘Azm Al-Ubat (“The Resolve of the Brave Ones”), similarly celebrates reports of the Taliban’s seizing control of the prison and freeing thousands of prisoners, writing: “By Allah, none of the conquests and victories of the Taliban has brought healing to our hearts more than the release of Muslim prisoners and the freeing of their women, so may Allah reward the Taliban.”
Min Idlib (“From Idlib”), a Telegram channel run by independent jihadi clerics in the Idlib area, reports: “Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar! The barbaric American Bagram prison has been conquered and thousands of mujahideen have left the prison for the front lines to conquer Kabul.”
A pro-HTS Telegram channel, Abu Mujahid, posted a photograph showing two Taliban fighters trampling a U.S. flag at the captured airbase, reporting the Russian Foreign Ministry’s comment that “the worrying situation in Afghanistan is a result of the failure of another American experiment.”
The Min Idlib Telegram channel posted a video clip showing freed prisoners leaving the Pul-e-Charkhi prison and heading home, commenting: “A day of joy. Thousands of prisoners will meet their families and children today at dinnertime.”
Jihadis Celebrate Taliban Takeover of Kabul Presidential Palace as Triumph of Taliban’s Steadfastness
Hani Al-Siba’i, an Egyptian-born pro-Al-Qaeda cleric based in London, posted a photograph on his Telegram channel depicting Taliban leaders inside the Presidential Palace in Kabul. Al-Siba’i comments: “A photograph of the Taliban’s men in the Republican Palace [sic] in Kabul after twenty years of jihad, tribulations, patience, and steadfastness, followed by victory, with Allah’s grace. Allah Akbar and praise to Allah. We ask Allah to keep the plots of all enemies of Islam far away from them.”
Syria-based Al-Qaeda supporter Jallad Al-Murji’ah juxtaposes a photograph showing Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, chief of the Taliban’s negotiating team, after his 2010 arrest in Pakistan, with another showing him and other Taliban leaders entering the Presidential Palace in 2021. The Al-Qaeda supporter comments: “The journey between captivity and the palace tells a story of the steadfastness, jihad, and patience of an ummah [Islamic nation] which refused humiliation, dejection, surrender, and submission despite the entire world’s ganging up against it. ‘And we want to show favor to those who were oppressed on earth, to make them leaders, and to make them inheritors.’ [Quran 28:5]”
HTS supporter Al-Shami posted a photograph of the Presidential Palace, reporting that Taliban mujahideen had entered the building. The HTS supporter congratulates them on their victory and thanks Allah, writing: “Allah Akbar and glory to Allah! O Allah, praise to You so that You may be pleased! We congratulate our people in the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan for their powerful victory at the hands of the brave Taliban mujahideen, by Allah’s grace. We ask Allah the Supreme and Omnipotent that this victory be the beginning of Islamic victories in other countries and that He grant us in Syria a mighty, powerful victory which will gladden the hearts of the believers.” Al-Shami concludes his post with the hashtags #Congratulations_Taliban and #Taliban_is_winning.
Jihadis Compare “Historic” U.S. Evacuation of Kabul Embassy to Fall of Saigon
Jihadis also gloated over photographs showing helicopters evacuating Americans from Kabul, comparing them to the famous U.S. evacuation of personnel from Saigon, Vietnam, in April 1975. The “fall of Saigon” took place two years after the U.S. withdrew its forces from the country, concluding its involvement in the Vietnam War, in which it lost more than 58,000 soldiers. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken notably rejected the comparison between the two evacuations, saying: “Let’s take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.”
The Min Idlib Telegram channel posted photographs showing U.S. Chinook helicopters evacuating personnel from the embassy in Kabul, commenting: “A repeat of the Vietnam scenario. The American aircraft fill the skies of the capital, Kabul, and the spirits of the collaborators are torn out with the takeoff of every helicopter from the embassy and the airport.” The post concludes with the hashtag #Afghanistan_is_the_graveyard_of_the_invaders.
Another pro-Al-Qaeda Telegram channel, Al-Khaymah (“The Tent”), juxtaposes a photograph of U.S. helicopters evacuating Americans from Saigon with a photograph of U.S. helicopters evacuating the embassy in Kabul, commenting with the Arabic expression: “How similar tonight is to last night!” and describing both images as “historic.”
The pro-Al-Qaeda Al-Hikmah Foundation similarly posted a photograph of a U.S. helicopter taking off from the embassy, writing: “The moment of the Americans’ escape from Kabul by helicopter. Record these photographs for history!”
Pro-Al-Qaeda Telegram channel Hadi Al-Rakb (“Leader of the Caravan”) posted the same photograph, mockingly reminding readers of U.S. President Joe Biden’s remarks in July 2021: “The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of the embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.” The Telegram channel captions the photograph showing a U.S. helicopter evacuation from the Kabul embassy: “Afghanistan today.”
Jihadis Gloat over Billions of Dollars Spent by U.S. in Afghanistan, Predict U.S. Defeat and Torment in Hell
On August 14, Sudanese pro-Al-Qaeda cleric Abu ‘Abdallah Al-Sadeq Al-Hashemi quoted a tweet by far-right U.S. political activist Jack Posobiec: “The Pentagon spent $88 billion dollars training the Afghan Army for 20 years. It collapsed in one month.” Al-Hashemi comments with the Quranic verse (8:36): “The unbelievers spend their wealth to turn people away from Allah’s path. They will spend it, then it will become a source of regret for them, then they will be overcome. The unbelievers will be gathered together in Hell,” then adds: “Allah Akbar. Much praise to Allah. Two [of the verse’s predictions] have come to pass and two remain, and how close are they [to fruition], with Allah’s power and strength.” The pro-Al-Qaeda cleric predicts that just as the Americans spent money to further their interests in Afghanistan and now regret having done so, they will soon be defeated and will descend into Hell.
HTS media operative Abu Muhammad Al-Shimali similarly quotes both Posobiec and The New York Times, which notes that the U.S. “poured more than $83 billion in weapons, equipment, and training into [Afghanistan’s] security forces over two decades,” yet the Afghan military has collapsed in the face of Taliban advances. Al-Shimali comments with the same Quranic verse: “The unbelievers spend their wealth to turn people away from Allah’s path. They will spend it, then it will become a source of regret for them, then they will be overcome. The unbelievers will be gathered together in Hell.”