Taliban: c. US estimate: 75,000 UN report: 55,000–85,000 fighters 15,000 support facilitators and non-combatants Other estimates: 85,000–200,000
ANSF: c. Official figure as per US and Afghan government: 300,000–354,000(officially; including police officers, and many ghost soldiers) Other estimates: 150,000–200,000 combat-oriented troops, including an unknown number of junior and ghost soldiers.
In the first three months of the offensive, the Taliban made significant advances in the countryside, increasing the number of districts it controlled from 73 to 223. On 6 August, the Taliban launched an assault on the provincial capitals of Afghanistan, with most of the towns surrendering without a fight, and it captured all Afghan provincial capitals except Bazarak. On 15 August, the incumbent President, Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Taliban captured the Afghan capital Kabul; thus, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's government fell.
In September 2020, over 5,000 Taliban prisoners, including 400 of whom were accused or convicted of major crimes such as murder, were released by the Afghan government as part of the Doha Agreement between the United States and the Taliban. According to Afghanistan's National Security Council, many of the released prisoners who were "experts" returned to the battlefield and strengthened the Taliban's hand.
An Afghan Air ForceMil Mi-17 was shot down by the Taliban, killing three pilots, while a UH-60 Black Hawk was damaged on the ground after an outpost belonging to the Afghan Armed Forces was shelled by the Taliban in the same month. On 16 June, Taliban militants executed 22 surrendering Afghan Army commandoes in the town of Dawlat Abad. Among the dead was Major Sohrab Azimi, son of retired General Zahir Azimi. He was posthumously promoted to brigadier general. Eyewitnesses stated that the language the Taliban militants spoke among themselves was foreign, indicating that the fighters were not from the area. During the month, 703 Afghan National Security Forces and 208 civilians were killed during clashes with the Taliban, while the Afghan Ministry of Defense claimed killing 1,535 Taliban fighters. On 19 June, Afghan National Army chief of staff, defense and interior ministers were replaced by PresidentAshraf Ghani. By the end of June, all Resolute Support Mission's member countries had withdrawn their troops, except for the UK, Turkey, and the US.
On 22 June, the Taliban captured Shir Khan Bandar, Afghanistan's main Tajikistan border crossing. 13 districts fell to the Taliban within 24 hours. On the same day, heavy fighting was also occurring in Baghlan Province after Afghan forces launched a military operation on the outskirts of Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital, killing 17 Taliban militants including Qari Khalid, a Taliban divisional commander. Simultaneously, Taliban forces took control of Balkh and encircled Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province. On 23 June, the Taliban and Afghan forces clashed inside Pul-e Khumri.
On 25 June, the Taliban took control of the Shinwari District and the Ghorband District in Parwan Province north of Kabul. That same day NBC News reported that the Taliban "were surprised at the speed of their advance and had avoided capturing some targets so as not to run afoul of the US", and the Afghan government launched a program called National Mobilization that aimed to arm militia groups to fight the Taliban. Meanwhile, Taliban deputy emir Sirajuddin Haqqani issued a series of instructions on Voice of Jihad for the governance of territories seized in the offensive. FDD's Long War Journal researcher Thomas Joscelyn argued that Haqqani's statements "read like those that would be issued by the head of a nation".
In July, the Taliban captured 64 districts from the Afghan government and entered the second and third largest cities of Afghanistan, Kandahar and Herat respectively. During the month, 335 Afghan National Security Forces and 189 civilians were killed during the clashes with the Taliban, while the Afghan Ministry of Defense claimed killing 3,159 Taliban fighters. Around 1,500 Afghan soldiers deserted into Tajikistan, according to its CSTO envoy. Iranian media reported that around 300 Afghan soldiers and civilians had crossed the border and entered into Iran to escape the Taliban.
On 2 July, Germany and Italy withdrew their troops from Afghanistan, and US troops left Bagram Airfield, handing it to the Afghan Armed Forces. Since the US withdrawal from the Bagram Airfield on 2 July, US airstrikes against the Taliban have been led from outside of Afghanistan, from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and the US Navycarrier strike group in the Persian Gulf, requiring the warplanes to travel several hours to reach their targets. According to a US defence official, the airstrikes since 2 July amounted to only "a handful" each day.
On the first weekend of July, hundreds of armed women took to the streets of northern and central Afghanistan in demonstrations against the Taliban offensive, the largest one taking place in Firozkoh, the capital of Ghor Province. The provincial governor Abdulzahir Faizzada reported in an interview with The Guardian that many Afghan women, some of whom recently escaped the Taliban, have been learning to use firearms in order to defend themselves, with some already having battled the Taliban themselves. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid denounced the reports as "propaganda" and declared that "women will never pick up guns against us". During the weekend, the Taliban captured nine border posts belonging to the Afghan Army in Kunar Province near the border with Pakistan, during which 39 personnel of the Afghan Army surrendered to the Taliban while another 31 fled to Pakistan.
On 8 July, Afghan soldiers executed an Afghan villager by making him sit on an improvised explosive device (IED) before it exploded. The victim, named Barakatullah, was accused of aiding the Taliban by Afghan police and anti-Taliban militia. The father of Barakatullah denied that his son was working with the Taliban. The incident took place south of the city of Sharana, the capital of Paktika province and the video of the incident was uploaded on TikTok. France 24 Observers team was able to verify and geolocate the video. Fawad Aman, a spokesperson for the Afghan ministry of defence, denied that any such incident took place. An Afghan journalist, Naseeb Zadran, said that this not an isolated incident and reflects the impunity enjoyed by Afghan army.
On 12 July, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow ordered the deployment of troops and heavy weapons and armour on the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border, in order to avoid a spillover of the Afghan conflict into Turkmenistan. On 16 July, Uzbekistan hosted a conference between a number of the region's leaders and foreign diplomats, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in order to promote peace and prevent a civil war.
On 21 July, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffMark Milley reported that half of all Afghan districts were under Taliban control and that momentum was "sort of" on the side with the Taliban. On 22 July, the Pentagon confirmed that the United States Air Force had carried out four airstrikes in Afghanistan at the request of Afghan officials. Two airstrikes aimed at destroying military equipment captured by the Taliban from Afghan security forces; one artillery gun and one military vehicle were destroyed. Meanwhile, the battle for Kandahar city continued, with the settlement being essentially besieged by the rebels. All surrounding districts save for Daman District had fallen under Taliban control, and only Kandahar's air field (crucial for supplying the local security forces) remained under full government control. According to the FDD's Long War Journal, the potential fall of Daman District to the insurgents would make it extremely difficult for the government forces to hold onto Kandahar city. On 22 July 100 people were killed in a mass shooting in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province. However, pro-government forces also scored victories in Bamyan Province, as local militias and the police retook the districts of Sayghan and Kahmard from the Taliban, and in Herat Province, where the government recaptured Karakh District.
On 24 July, the government imposed a curfew between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. in all but three provinces of the country in order to "curb violence and reduce the movements and advances of the Taliban".
Situation on 25 July
On 26 July, a report by representative of the United Nations Deborah Lyons showed a sharp increase in civilian deaths as a consequence of the fighting between the government and the Taliban. Lyons implored both sides to protect civilians as she says that women and children are being killed. The same day around 46 Afghan troops, including 5 officers, sought refuge in Pakistan after they were unable to defend their military post.
On 28 July, a delegation from the Taliban met in Tianjin with the Chinese foreign ministerWang Yi, who pledged the People's Republic of China's support for the Taliban on the condition that they cut ties with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (as of 2002, 400 militants in Xinjiang region had been trained in Taliban training camps) vowing to "bring the Taliban back into the political mainstream" and offering to host peace talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.
By 31 July, the Taliban had entered the provincial capitals of both Helmand and Herat provinces, capturing scores of districts in said provinces and capturing border crossings with Iran and Turkmenistan. Among others, Herat's important Karakh District was again overrun by the rebels. The insurgents also cut the road between Herat International Airport and Herat city, although the airport remained under government control. The Long War Journal argued that the government's ability to keep control of Herat city without the airport supplying the defenders was questionable. Meanwhile, Kandahar city remained contested.
From 1 to 2 August, the Safian, Qala-e-Kohneh and Kariz areas on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah fell to the Taliban. Clashes between Taliban and the government also took place in the suburbs of the city, with the Afghan Air Force and United States Air Force attacking Taliban positions. On 3 August 40 civilians were killed and more than 100 wounded in the fighting. After capturing Lashkar Gah's radio station, the Taliban began broadcasting their Voice of Sharia programming. The rebels also began to attack the city's airport. Meanwhile, the government dispatched reinforcements to prevent the city from falling to the insurgents.
On 3 August, 13 people—including five attackers—were killed in a Taliban bombing and shootout in Kabul. The inghimasi-style operation, carried out by the Taliban's "Martyrdom Battalion", aimed at killing Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi; he survived the attack. Mohammadi was described by the Long War Journal as one of the key government figures responsible for countering the Taliban offensive.
As of 5 August, 115 Afghan National Security Forces personnel and 58 civilians were killed during the clashes with the Taliban, while the Afghan Ministry of Defense claimed killing 3,197 Taliban fighters since the start of the month.
Fall of the provincial capitals
List of the fallen provincial capitals during the offensive
On 6 August, the Taliban assassinated Dawa Khan Minapal, head of Government Media and Information Centre, in Kabul. On the same day, heavy fighting was reported in Jowzjan Province as the Taliban entered the provincial capital, Sheberghan. The Taliban confirmed responsibility for the killing of Minapal and warned that it would target senior administration officials in retaliation for increasing airstrikes. On the same day, the Taliban captured the provincial capital of Nimroz Province, Zaranj, making it the first capture by the Taliban of a provincial capital since the 2001 American invasion. The rebels proceeded to open the local prisons, allowing many inmates to escape. As Zaranj had reportedly been captured with almost no resistance, Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary voiced suspicions that someone had "sold" the city to the Taliban. Social media posts suggested that the Taliban were welcomed by some residents of the city which has a long history of lawlessness. Images appearing on social media showed Taliban fighters driving captured military Humvees, luxury SUVs and pickups through the streets while flying Taliban flags as local residents—mostly youths and young men—cheered them on. A UN envoy also warned the country was entering a 'deadlier phase' of the war. The governments of Britain and United States warned its citizens to leave Afghanistan "immediately" amid the Taliban advance and the worsening security situation.
On 7 August, the Taliban had captured Sheberghan, making it the second capture of a provincial capital.Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ex-warlord and the strongman who had traditionally dominated the city, took his followers and fled to Khwaja Du Koh District, the only area in Jowzjan Province which was still government-held. Meanwhile, pro-government forces had been reduced to a pocket of resistance in Lashkar Gah, while Kandahar and Herat remained fiercely contested. Insurgents also launched repeated raids on the other provincial capitals. On the same day, US B-52 bombers carried out airstrikes against Taliban in Afghanistan, operating from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The United States was also using armed Reaper drones and AC-130 Spectre gunships which reportedly began daily attacks against targets around Kandahar, Herat, and Lashkar Gah. The remaining ground defense of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar was mostly organized by hundreds of Afghan Commandos who had become encircled by the insurgents; as these soldiers were the Afghan military's best-trained and most highly motivated troops, the Long War Journal argued that their loss would be a major setback in regards to the Afghan security forces' future effectiveness.USS Ronald Reagan was launching fast jets to provide support to the missions. The American Embassy in Kabul urged all Americans to leave the country immediately due to increased security concerns, and the inability of the embassy to guarantee the safety of American citizens due to the reduction of staff at the embassy.
The following day, the Taliban captured the cities of Kunduz and Sar-e Pol after heavy clashes with the Afghan National Security Forces. In the battles for the two cities, mass desertions were reported, as many Afghan National Army soldiers had been demotivated by the rapid rebel advance as well as Taliban propaganda. Pro-government forces were only able to hold onto Kunduz's military base and airport. Reporters described the capture of Kunduz as "the most significant gain for the Taliban since they launched their offensive in May" with the city being one of Afghanistan's largest settlements, well connected to other notable locations in the country including Kabul and considered part of a major Central Asian drug smuggling route. The battle for Kunduz involved the Red Unit, the Taliban elite shock troops, and resulted in the release of hundreds of prisoners including Taliban commanders. The city of Taloqan was also taken by the Taliban late 8 August, making it the fifth provincial capital to fall. Government forces retreated from the city after noon, retaking Warsaj District and Farkhar District.
Taliban militants resting at a village, August 2021
On 9 August, the Taliban captured Aybak, the capital of Samangan province. Deputy governor Sefatullah Samangani told the AFP news agency that government forces had withdrawn from the city without a fight after community representatives had requested that it be spared more violence. On the same day, Asif Azimi, a former senator from Samangan and a prominent warlord from the Jamiat-e Islami party, defected to the Taliban. Azimi said hundreds of men under his command had also defected to the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani and other political leaders also agreed to form a joint command center to coordinate and assist with public uprising forces.
Fighting intensified around Mazar-i-Sharif on 10 August. In Farah, capital of Farah Province, the Taliban had taken control of the governor's compound after heavy fighting between the Taliban and government forces. They had also taken control of the police headquarters and prison. Although heavy fighting continued, Farah became the seventh provincial capital to fall. An eighth provincial capital, Puli Khumri of Baghlan Province, was also captured on 10 August.
On 11 August, Fayzabad of Badakhshan Province became the ninth provincial capital to be captured by the Taliban. After the Taliban reached the city gates, government forces decided to retreat to Farkhar District and join with security forces there from Taloqan's fall. Prior to the US invasion, Fayzabad had been the headquarters of the Northern Alliance. On the same day, the Taliban captured Kunduz Airport and a major military base belonging to 217 Pamir Corps after hundreds of Afghan troops surrendered, securing Taliban control over their military equipment in Kunduz. The military base was responsible for security of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan and was one of the eight such installations in Afghanistan; its fall further reduced the suffering morale of the Afghan National Army, while effectively making a government counter-offensive to relieve Mazar-i-Sharif impossible.Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) quoted two local councillors who said that the entire 217th Pamir Corps surrendered to Taliban forces in Kunduz. A Taliban spokesman also posted a video on Twitter which purportedly showed government soldiers joining the militants' ranks. The besieged troops of the 217 Pamir Corps had held out for three days before surrendering; much military equipment was captured by the rebels at the base and airport. Additionally, the day saw General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai's replacement by General Haibatullah Alizai as the new Afghan Army chief of staff. The outgoing General Ahmadzai served as an Afghan army chief of staff since he assumed the post in June 2021.
On 12 August, the Taliban captured the city of Ghazni, making it the tenth provincial capital to fall within a week. The city lies along the Kabul–Kandahar Highway, serving as a gateway between Kabul and the strongholds in the south. The Governor of Ghazni Province was soon arrested in Wardak for "surrendering without a fight" in exchange for safe passage. On the same day, the central government offered a proposal of "power-sharing" in lieu of ceasefire; the Taliban rejected this offer stating that it wanted to establish a new Islamic emirate. The same day also saw the fall of strategic Shindand Air Base in Herat and capture of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters stationed in the Air Base. Late that night, Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city and the capital of the eponymous province, fell to the Taliban. The fall of Herat, after two weeks of siege, forced Ismail Khan and other top government officials and forces to seek refuge at a provincial airport and the army corps outside the city. In the morning, Khan along with Abdul Rahman Rahman, deputy interior minister, and Hasib Sediqi, Chief of National Directorate of Security in Herat, surrendered to the Taliban. The commander of 207 Zafar Corps, Khyal Nabi Ahmadzai, and thousands of government forces also surrendered to the Taliban. According to the local officials, an entire Afghan army Corps in the city of Herat crumbled. By this point, they controlled 11 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals. The Taliban had also launched an assault on Qala e Naw, capturing the city after failing to do so in July.
Overnight, Kandahar was captured by the Taliban: heavy clashing around the city led to the withdrawal of the ANA, thus increasing the number of provincial capitals controlled by the Taliban to thirteen.
After several weeks of fighting in the Battle of Lashkargah, the city of Lashkargah, capital of Helmand Province, was captured by the Taliban on 13 August. On the same day, the Taliban took control of Chaghcharan (also called Firozkoh), the capital city of Ghor Province. Officials said the city fell without any fighting, becoming the fifteenth provincial capital to fall to the Taliban within a week. Firozkoh has a population of nearly 132,000 people. Later on 13 August, the Taliban captured Puli Alam, Qalat and Tarinkot, the provincial capitals of Logar, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces respectively. Government loyalists put up a determined defense in Logar before being overrun, while Zabul and Uruzgan were only surrendered to the rebels after the local defenders judged their situation to be untenable and opted to retreat. In contrast, Qalat and Fayroz Koh fell without any fighting. Qalat had been deprived of defenders who had been sent to Kandahar, and Fayroz Koh officials preferred to negiotiate a takeover instead of being "steamrolled by the Taliban offensive". The Long War Journal argued that the fall of these provincial capitals allowed the Taliban to besiege Kabul, and described the Afghan government as being on the "verge of collapse".
On 14 August 2021, the Taliban captured seven provincial capital cities; Gardez, Sharana, Asadabad, Maymana, Mihtarlam,Nili, and Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth-largest city in Afganistan. Two long-time anti-Taliban warlords, namely Dostum and Atta Muhammad Nur, fled to Uzbekistan. Abas Ebrahimzada, a lawmaker from the Balkh province, said that in Mazar-i-Sharif, the national army surrendered first which caused the pro-government militia and other forces to lose morale and surrender in the face of Taliban assault on the city. Following the loss of the city, Atta Muhammad Nur stated in a Facebook post that his defeat in Mazar-i-Sharif was planned and held the government forces responsible for the defeat. He did not specify who was behind the conspiracy, nor provide any detail other then saying that he and Dostum are in a safe place. Later, Taliban forces also entered Maidan Shar, center of Maidan Wardak Province. At this point, the rebels had encircled Kabul, while the Afghan National Army had descended into chaos following its rapid defeat across the country. Only the 201st Corps and 111th Division, both based at the Afghan capital, were left operational.
Also on 15 August, authorities in Uzbekistan detained 84 Afghan soldiers who had crossed the border, and provided medical aid to both the detained soldiers and a group of soldiers which had gathered on the Afghan side of the Termez-Khairaton bridge.
On 16 August, the Khost Protection Force (KPF), a militia unit created by the CIA in the early years of the US invasion, surrendered to Taliban forces in eastern Afghanistan after attempting to flee to Paktia Province. According to local journalists cited by Interfax, about 6,000 KPF in 1,200 vehicles surrendered to the Taliban, with a video of the surrender being posted to social media.
British soldiers deploying to Kabul to assist in the NATO withdrawal, 13 August 2021
On 12 August, a few hours after the fall of Herat, the United States and United Kingdom governments announced the deployment of 3,000 and 600 of their troops respectively to the Kabul airport, in order to secure the airlifting of their nationals, embassy staff and the Afghan civilians who worked with the coalition forces out of the country. Officials said that the first deployment would occur in the next 24 to 48 hours, and that it would be completed by the end of the month. According to those sources the plan was to use charter aircraft for the evacuation using the Kabul airport which still allowed commercial airliners to fly at the time, however that military aircraft would be used if that became impossible. According to the British government, the evacuation and its timing had long been planned, while an Afghan official said that the timing was brought forward as the security situation rapidly deteriorated. In addition to the 3,000 US troops, an additional 3,500 will be on standby in Kuwait in case the situation escalates to an armed conflict with the Taliban. Canada announced that Canadian special forces units will be deployed to evacuate embassy personnel in Kabul, which houses Afghan families who have worked with Canadian staff in the past. The Danish and Norwegian governments announced their embassies in Kabul would close for security reasons and plans to evacuate their diplomatic staff and Afghans who worked alongside them would move forward.
The Afghan interior ministry announced that President Ghani had decided to relinquish power and an interim government led by the Taliban would be formed; former president Hamid Karzai was to be part of the negotiation team. The Taliban ordered its fighters to wait for a peaceful transfer of power and to not enter Kabul by force.
On 15 August it was reported that President Ghani had left the country for Tajikistan. Ghani's departure from Afghanistan was criticised by many Afghans and outside observers. Nikita Ishchenko, a spokesperson for Russia's embassy in Kabul, claimed that Ghani fled Afghanistan with four cars and helicopters full of money. Later, speaking from the United Arab Emirates, Ghani said he left on the advice of government aides to avoid being lynched (Afghan president President Mohammad Najibullah had been publicly hanged upon the previous Taliban takeover in 1996). He denied reports that he had taken large sums of money with him, noting that he had passed through customs on his arrival in the UAE.
On 16 August, Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Naeem, told in an interview with Al Jazeera that war is over in Afghanistan. He also said that the Taliban have achieved what they wanted; they will not allow Afghanistan's territory to be used against anyone, nor do they want to harm anyone else. On the same day, Uzbekistan's prosecutor general office said that a total of 22 military planes and 24 helicopters carrying around 585 Afghan soldiers had arrived in Uzbekistan. Around 158 Afghan soldiers also crossed the Uzbekistan's border on foot.
The Taliban committed a high number of war crimes during their 2021 offensive.
On 16 June, in Dawlat Abad, 22 unarmed Afghan Special Forces commandos were executed while attempting to surrender to Taliban forces. A video of the event circulated widely and was broadcast by CNN. Samira Hamidi of Amnesty International described the event as "the cold-blooded murder of surrendering soldiers – a war crime". She called for the event to be investigated as part of the International Criminal Court investigation in Afghanistan.
Amnesty International noted a massacre of Hazara by the Taliban in early July in Ghazni province as a "horrifying indicator" for the future. The Hazara men were variously shot and tortured to death, with one strangled by his own scarf and with his arm muscles sliced off, and another with his body shot to pieces.
On 6 August 2021, Taliban forces claimed responsibility for the 5 August assassination of Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the governmental media and information centre, in Kabul. On the same day, during which the Taliban took control of Zaranj, human rights activist Laal Gul Laal stated that the execution of 30 soldiers by the Taliban was a war crime. According to TOLOnews, some of the soldiers were tortured and had their eyes removed by the Taliban before they were killed.
Andrew Watkins, senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said there was no evidence that the Taliban had increased their manpower to conduct this offensive, aside from utilising some of the 5,000 insurgents who were released earlier. Watkins believes that the end of US airstrikes changed the scenario. He says that the end of US airstrikes granted the insurgents freedom of movement and they were able to regroup, plan and strengthen their supply lines without fear of US airstrikes.
Issues with Afghan forces
Corrupt Afghan army officers leading ghost battalions, who pocket the salaries of absent soldiers, was a known issue in the Afghan military. In a 2016 report, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said "neither the United States nor its Afghan allies know how many Afghan soldiers and police actually exist, how many are in fact available for duty, or, by extension, the true nature of their operational capabilities". In early 2019, at least 42,000 ghost soldiers were removed from the army's payroll.
On 30 July, SIGAR said there were "corrosive effects of corruption within the ANDSF, inaccuracies on the actual strength of the Afghan forces, lack of combat readiness, will to fight, unsustainability due to dependencies on advanced equipment, lack of focus on ministerial-level capabilities, and lack of critical information, such as assessments of district control, that could be used to help measure the ANDSF’s performance in recent years".
For years the Pentagon was responsible for paying salary directly to the Afghan soldiers. The responsibility for those payment was transferred to the Kabul government since the announcement of planned withdrawal in April. Since then numerous Afghan soldiers have complained that they have not been paid in months and in many cases their units were no longer receiving food, supplies or ammunition. Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander, told CNN that many Afghan soldiers saw the job in military as paycheck, and not a cause. He said that Afghan military is composed of various tribes and factions that were historically at odds with each other. He also said that it is an old Afghan trick to side with the winner or at least stay away from the losing side, and that is why Afghan military disintegrated so quickly.
On 12 August, international counter-terrorism experts and some US officials said that the Afghan National Security Forces' (ANSF) swift collapse in case of a US withdrawal "should come as no surprise". According to an expert, the Taliban had been able to move their forces freely throughout Afghanistan after the Doha Agreement with almost no intervention from the Afghan government forces. On the same day, former US adviser Vali Nasr, said that there was "no kind of leadership that would give local warlords reasons for why they should resist the Taliban. So the more they see the Taliban victory is inevitable, the more the victory becomes inevitable, because they just cut their own deals with them".
The politicisation of Afghan military also resulted in unqualified politicians loyal to Ashraf Ghani securing key positions in Afghan military.Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani's national security adviser, took direct control of military operations despite having no military experience. According to several senior government officials and diplomats, Mohib's orders often bypassed the normal chain of command.
Mike Martin, a former British army officer, said that Ghani lacked the political skills to keep the Afghanistan's many different ethnic groups loyal to the idea of a national cause. Many Afghans are more loyal towards their traditional ethnic, tribal and even familial ties than they are to the Afghan army, which the provincial Taliban commander exploited to negotiate surrender of many troops. Ali Yawar Adili, country director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said that Afghan officials—including Ghani—never expected that the US would be halting logistical and air support to the Afghan forces. Afghan troops were heavily dependent on logistical and air support provided by the US and they were deeply shocked when US support was withdrawn. Elizabeth Threlkeld, a former US state department official, said that the Taliban's rapid advance and peaceful surrender of some Afghan army units had encouraged many others to follow suit.
On 8 July, US President Joe Biden stated: "The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."
On 23 June, the United States Intelligence Community estimated that the Afghan government could fall within the next six months following the US withdrawal. On 10 August, US officials revised the previous six month estimate, saying that it could happen much more quickly, and that some scenarios envisioned the fall of Kabul within 30 to 90 days. On 13 August, reports appeared that "senior Western diplomatic sources" expected the Taliban to enter Kabul within the next seven days.
On 8 July, US President Joe Biden speaking to reporters in a press conference, said that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is not inevitable, stating, "the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped—as well-equipped as any army in the world—and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban". Biden said that the US intelligence community had not assessed that the Afghan government would likely collapse. When asked about whether there were parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam, the President replied:
"None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is—you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy—six, if I’m not mistaken. The Taliban is not the south—the North Vietnamese army. They’re not—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 an embassy in the—of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable."
Biden added that "...the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely". On 15 August, during the entrance of the Taliban into Kabul, diplomats and staff were evacuated from the US embassy in Kabul via US Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters.
On 11 July, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the ANDSF "have much more capacity than they've ever had before" and, "they know how to defend their country". On 9 August, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko stated that the US military command "knew how bad the Afghan military was".
On 12 August, US officials said that the surprising speed of the Taliban offensive was connected to both structural and political issues, such as early under-investment in local governments, lack of sufficient nation building, societal structures in clans, topography, ghost soldiers and unequal quality of troops,[clarification needed] as well as the recent peace agreement and amnesty of Taliban prisoners.
Potential al-Qaeda resurgence
According to a US defense official, the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of US military forces could create an opening for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to reorganize. The official added that, while the US would still maintain authority to strike al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, the lack of a robust US presence on the ground would hamper the ability to identify potential targets. The CENTCOM commander Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. said that he has not seen anything that would make him believe the Taliban would stop al-Qaeda from using Afghanistan to strengthen and rebuild.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that the vacuum could give terrorist groups like al-Qaeda another chance for a safe haven.
On 8 August, the head of extremist monitoring group SITE, Rita Katz, said that the Taliban advance resembled the earlier days of the Syrian civil war amid al-Nusra Front's victories, "except now on a completely different scale, given the Taliban's horrifying momentum".
Kazakh political scientist Dosym Satpaev warned that a Taliban takeover could possibly pave a way for other fundamental Islamist forces in an attempt to form a merger state of Central Asia and Afghanistan.
A US Marine escorting Afghan evacuees during the Kabul airlift, 19 August 2021
More than 300,000 Afghan civilians risk Taliban retaliation because they worked for the US government.
As of 17 August, there were about 11,000 American citizens stranded in Taliban-held Afghanistan.
In late July, hundreds of Afghan refugees began to cross into eastern Turkey from Iran. At least 1,500 migrants were detained along the Iranian border, and 200 Afghan migrants were intercepted by Turkey en route to Europe. Turkey announced the construction of a border barrier along the Iran–Turkey border, where many refugees cross into Turkey en route to Europe.
On 5 August, six European Union (EU) member states, including Germany, urged the European Commission to continue deporting rejected asylum seekers back to Afghanistan despite major advances by Taliban. A few days later, Germany and the Netherlands temporarily suspended the deportation of Afghan refugees as Taliban insurgents captured more territory.
On 13 August, the Canadian government announced that Canada will resettle more than 20,000 Afghan citizens from groups it considers likely targets of the Taliban. The United Kingdom said it will allow 20,000 Afghans to settle in the UK, and the US appears likely to relocate up to 30,000 Afghan SIV applicants into the United States. Australia promised to resettle more than 3,000 Afghan refugees. Germany said it will take in about 10,000 Afghans.
On 17 August, India announced that it will issue an emergency e-visa to all Afghan nationals who want to come to the country, having "already received requests from Afghan Sikh and Hindu community leaders". The visa will initially be valid for 6 months.
The US State Department issued a statement that relocation cases would be processed in third countries, citing Turkey as a possible venue. The US had not previously discussed this possibility with Turkey. According to Bloomberg News, Turkey responded negatively and "blasted the US for recommending that Afghans fearful of a vengeful Taliban seek asylum in America from third countries". Turkey already hosts around six million refugees of the Syrian Civil War, more than any other country, and officials said it does not have the capacity to absorb the wave of refugees from Afghanistan and that it was "irresponsible" of the US administration to make these types of plans without consultation or discussion.
When Kabul fell in mid-August, thousands of Afghans attempting to flee the country rushed to the airport. In desperation, several people clung to the side of a US military plane, falling to their deaths when the plane took off. US troops eventually had to fire warning shots to clear paths for the aircraft, which were evacuating Afghan government officials.
A US official told Reuters that while there are no definitive numbers yet, the current intelligence assessment was that the Taliban is believed to have captured more than 2,000 armoured vehicles and 40 aircraft. US officials said that while they are concerned about Taliban having access to the helicopters, the captured equipment is complicated to operate and requires a high-level of maintenance. A former US General, Joseph Votel, said that the majority of the captured equipment was not equipped with any sensitive US technology.
Since 2 July, US aircraft attacked military equipment captured by the insurgents, destroying D30 howitzers, tanks, MRAPs and Humvees.
Protest in Rotterdam against the Taliban's take over, 21 August 2021
After the fall of Kabul, former Northern Alliance members and anti-Taliban figures formed a military alliance called the Second Resistance, under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud and former Vice President Amrullah Saleh. They have based themselves in the Panjshir Valley, which was a major base of operations for the original Northern Alliance. On 17 August 2021, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh declared himself caretaker President of Afghanistan in Panjshir Valley.
With the fall of Kabul, former Northern Alliance members and other anti-Taliban forces based in Panjshir, led by Ahmad Massoud and former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, became the primary organized resistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Afghan embassy in Tajikistan replaced their presidential portrait of Ghani with one of Saleh, and submitted a request to Interpol to have arrest warrants issued for Ghani, along with his chief advisor Fazel Mahmood and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib, on charges of having stolen from the Afghan treasury.
On 17 August, a small protest was held by several women in Kabul demanding equal rights for women, the first reported women's protest against the new regime.
On 18 August, larger protests also attended by men emerged in three eastern Pashtun-dominated cities: Jalalabad, Khost, and Asadabad, with protestors waving the flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and taking down the Taliban flag. In Jalalabad, the Taliban opened fire, killing three and wounding over a dozen. On 19 August, demonstrations spread to various parts of Kabul, including one large protest near Kabul Airport where cars and people waved the flag of the republic, and another with over 200 people gathered near the presidential palace in Kabul before it was violently dispersed by the Taliban. Protests continued in Khost and Asadabad as well, with the Taliban using violence to disperse protests in both. In Asadabad, protests were reported as swelling to the hundreds.
^ abLabott, Elise (25 June 2021). "Can Biden Save Ashraf Ghani?". Foreign Policy. Hamdullah Mohib, his national security advisor with no military experience of his own, set up a command center in Afghanistan’s National Security Council, appointing district commanders and police chiefs over the objection of local leaders—even going so far as to dictate troop deployments and call in specific targets.
^Evans, Michael; Tomlinson, Hugh (2 August 2021). "US abandoning Afghanistan to civil war, says General David Petraeus". The Times. Archived from the original on 8 August 2021. Retrieved 8 August 2021. America has been launching airstrikes in support of Afghan forces, using armed Reaper drones that take up to eight hours to reach a target from their base in the Gulf as well as fighter aircraft from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and from the carrier USS Ronald Reagan,
^WILKINSON, TRACY; BULOS, NABIH (13 August 2021). "U.S. troops' return to Afghanistan has ominous parallel to recent history in Iraq". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 16 August 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2021. Government soldiers have surrendered en masse, bequeathing the militants thousands of trucks, dozens of armored vehicles, antiaircraft guns, artillery and mortars, seven helicopters (seven others were destroyed) and a number of ScanEagle drones.