How the Afghan Taliban achieved their takeover of Afghanistan

For his or her half, the Taliban technique revolved largely round encircling and capturing key strongpoints

Few occasions lately have been fairly as sudden because the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan in summer time 2021. Although the insurgency in opposition to america had confirmed terribly resilient, the American withdrawal was anticipated to precede a protracted competitors between the rurally outstanding insurgency and the American-installed authorities, which could have capitalised on its appreciable benefit in materials sources and diplomatic help. As an alternative, the federal government collapsed dramatically towards the top of summer time, with Ashraf Ghani’s flight confirming the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul earlier than a cussed opposition within the Panjsher valley was snuffed out. Not solely was the Afghan summer time of 2021 a watershed occasion, but additionally the topic of appreciable propaganda and misinformation throughout political strains. It’s due to this fact helpful to undertake a complete assessment of the occasions that led to the Taliban emirate’s recapture of Afghanistan.

The Taliban insurgency in opposition to america differed from the earlier Nineteen Eighties insurgency in opposition to the Soviet Union in two main facets. Firstly, the Taliban motion practically monopolised the resistance to america – not like the Nineteen Eighties, the place a lot of usually competing rebel teams and fronts fought the Soviets. Secondly, the Taliban as an entire have been extra disciplined and united, with solely a handful of exceptions, than their predecessors had been. These components enabled them to keep away from the infighting that had dogged the Afghan insurgency after the Soviet withdrawal. But not even their most optimistic supporter may have predicted the pace with which they took Afghanistan in summer time 2021, even earlier than america’ departure – pre-empting the type of protracted, internally divisive battle that had hampered the resistance in opposition to the Soviet-installed regime in 1989-92.

This was to a terrific extent helped by the divisions amongst their opposition. The federal government of Ashraf Ghani was suffering from bitter divisions with the largely non-Pashtun regional potentates within the Afghan north. These included the Turkic Junbish motion’s chief Abdul-Rashid Dostum, who had as soon as been Ghani’s working mate however fallen out with him, and Jamiat emir Ata Noor. That they had borne the brunt of the struggle in opposition to the Taliban insurgency in northern Afghanistan and balked at what they portrayed as Pashtun favouritism by Ghani’s authorities. Even earlier than the Taliban summer time marketing campaign kicked off, there have been protests in opposition to Ghani’s Pashtun governors, Muhammad Daud in northwest Faryab and Zikria Sauda in northeast Badakhshan provinces – on each events, Ghani was compelled to take away his appointees.

The federal government was equally, in opposition to Ghani’s private preferences, reliant on militias, a few of which had existed earlier than the American invasion and others based since. Despite appreciable hype over the progress of state forces – the military and police – their typical efficiency had been poor, and within the 2010s a lot of the burden had been carried by militias. Certainly militias – usually euphemistically named “fashionable rebellion teams” – had been favoured by america on the peak of the American marketing campaign, with the veteran Panjsheri chief and former military commander Bismillah Muhammadi enrolling them beneath the inside ministry in summer time 2010. That they had been faraway from the identical ministry’s payroll in summer time 2020, but by 2021 Ghani discovered himself as soon as extra compelled to attraction to the identical militia leaders he had tried to side-line – epitomised by Muhammadi’s appointment to defence minister.

For his or her half, the Taliban technique revolved largely round encircling and capturing key strongpoints – border cities, provincial capitals, and main cities corresponding to Kandahar, Ghazni, and Herat. They managed to take action successfully partly as a result of they managed a lot of the countryside. Closely reliant on bombardment by Fahim Ramin’s air power to be able to preserve the insurgents at bay, the federal government’s incapacity to concurrently coordinate and relieve completely different garrisons hampered any progress. Despite some early encouraging indicators – at japanese Laghman province, at northwest Faryab, and even on the Taliban’s conventional stronghold in Helmand – Kabul was unable to capitalise on any tactical progress, and by midsummer Taliban forces have been mustering up a momentum that culminated in a windfall of conquests by the summer time’s finish.

The West

Maybe the primary Taliban pictures of the marketing campaign have been fired in western Afghanistan, the place the insurgents wanted to scratch a longstanding itch. This was Abdul-Mannan Niazi, a longstanding dissident who had damaged away from the mainstream insurgency some years earlier; in Might 2021, he was killed in an ambush. The Afghan west, greater than most areas, was notably reliant on militia forces; because the Taliban stepped up their assaults, the federal government enlisted seasoned militia leaders corresponding to Ismail Khan of Herat and Abdul-Karim Khan of Nimrouz. The Herat garrison, a very prized goal, was additionally bolstered by the promotion of main state officers: the deputy inside minister Abdul-Rahman Rahmani arrived to supervise the marketing campaign together with a army governor, Abdul-Sabur Qani.

Led by Abdul-Qayum Rauhani from the south and Abdul-Karim Jihadyar from the north, Taliban forces within the west steadily superior towards Herat. In July 2021 Badghis’ provincial capital Qilai Nao was pierced by Taliban commander Muhibullah Akhundzada amid main defections; it took a belated rally by the Panjsheri commandant, Haseebullah Masoud, to drive out the attackers. In the meantime, rebel forces overran Islam Qila and Torghundi, Herat’s border posts with Iran and Turkmenistan respectively. Quickly Taliban commander Abdul-Aziz Ansari arrived at Herat metropolis itself the place a fierce struggle in opposition to Ismail’s militia ensued.

However it was the seize of a softer goal the subsequent month that set the tone. The southwest province Nimrouz, house to peripheral nomads and smugglers, was beneath the free management of the Baloch commander Abdul-Karim. In August 2021, its essential metropolis Zaranj turned the primary provincial capital to come back beneath Taliban management, because the Baloch militia gave manner in opposition to Taliban commanders Abdul-Haq Abid and Muhammad Ayubi. That set off a ripple impact; throughout the subsequent week, dozens of provincial capitals started to succumb throughout Afghanistan. Amongst them was Herat, the place Taliban political leaders Ameer Muttaqi and Ahmadullah Wasiq had personally reached out and satisfied Ismail to face down. The seize of the west’s essential metropolis was a blow from which the federal government by no means recovered; inside days, mass surrenders have been happening throughout northern and western Afghanistan.

The North

Opposite to fashionable perception, the largely non-Pashtun north had lengthy contained a sizeable contingent of Taliban forces from throughout ethnic teams; these included the Turkmen commander for Faryab Attaullah Umari, the Pashtun commander for Juzjan Maulawi Sunnatullah, and the Tajik commander for Balkh Abu Hamza Qudratullah. The north was unquestionably a troublesome nut, containing a number of massive and skilled militias loyal to such highly effective leaders as Ata and Dostum; the previous deputy inside minister, Murad Murad, was additionally flown into the Hazarajat to supervise the marketing campaign in opposition to Taliban forces led by Anas Azizi and Abdul-Basir Mazhari.

Preventing was fierce early in the summertime, and as usually as not the Taliban obtained bruising casualties – together with Sunnatullah, the Juzjan commander. The insurgents resorted as soon as extra to dangling a carrot alongside the stick in July 2021; Muttaqi arrived within the Hazara area to coax its principally Shia populace away from their fears in regards to the Sunni Taliban motion. It was not till the autumn of western cities like Zaranj and Herat, nonetheless, that the north folded. Militia commanders corresponding to Asif Azimi in Samangan and Ali Sadaqat in Daikundi surrendered, enabling the insurgents to take over these provinces.

The seize of Dostum’s stronghold Shibarghan by Sunnatullah’s successor Ismail Siraji badly hit the militias’ morale; Dostum, who had been compelled by illness to yield command to his son Yar-Muhammad for a lot of the summer time, withdrew shaken to Balkh’s capital Mazari Sharif, the place he and Ata plotted their subsequent transfer. With a lot of the northeast and the west having been misplaced, they quickly opted to exit the town with no struggle, leaving it to Qudratullah’s troops. Afterward, the northern militias and their supporters would blame the north’s downfall on a Pashtun conspiracy, between Ghani’s largely Pashtun aides and the Taliban. No matter else the failures of Ashraf Ghani’s regime, this doesn’t stand as much as scrutiny; not solely did non-Pashtuns comprise a lot of the northern Taliban corps, however a lot of the summer time’s fiercest preventing came about within the overwhelmingly Pashtun south.

The South

Southern Afghanistan was, in fact, the cradle and historic stronghold of the Taliban motion, and accordingly each the regime and the insurgency paid especial focus right here. Taliban miitary commander Yaqub Mujahid, son of the motion’s founder, and his second-in-command Ibrahim Sadar each operated from the area. Regime forces included each common state officers, corresponding to Helmand-based corps commander Sami Sadat and Kandahar sheriff Sharif Sartayeb, in addition to militia commanders corresponding to Abdul-Rahman Jan in Helmand and Tajuddin Khan, whose notorious Achakzai militia had guarded the border city Spin Boldak.

With a lot of the countryside firmly beneath their management and outlying garrisons largely remoted, Yaqub and Ibrahim had some room to slim down their targets. As early as Might 2021 they despatched Abdul-Ahad Talib to assault Lashkargah, the final regime holdout in Helmand; bolstered significantly by airpower, Sadat had the higher of the early preventing, however the attackers may afford to attend. In July 2021 Yousaf Wafa, an skilled Taliban commander introduced in to steer the Kandahar marketing campaign, scored a significant hit by capturing Spin Boldak from Tajuddin’s militia, a few of whom have been executed. The subsequent few weeks noticed ferocious preventing at each Lashkargah and Kandahar, till each cities lastly fell and the Taliban may declare the south at massive.


Southeast Afghanistan was house to a number of historic militant networks that had performed a significant function within the battle in opposition to the Soviets after which joined the Taliban emirate the place they occupied an more and more pivotal place. These included notably the community of Sirajuddin Haqqani, now a significant Taliban chief. The Haqqanis and different such networks had lengthy managed a lot of their mountainous Loya Paktia stronghold, however the authorities’s secret service had arrange a number of paramilitary forces with the assistance of america. Led by Wazir Shaheen in Paktika and Hayatullah Hilal in Khaust, they engaged in sporadic preventing with the Taliban troops within the area. These have been principally native Taliban leaders, corresponding to Sirajuddin’s uncle Mali Khan and shut lieutenant Abdullah Bilal at Khaust, but additionally included southerners from Kandahar corresponding to Isa Yasin, who led the Paktika marketing campaign.

A extra concerted marketing campaign came about on the street between Kandahar and Kabul, which ran by Ghazni Province. This was contested territory, managed by each common authorities commander Sher Andiwal in Ghazni metropolis, and Hazara commanders within the countryside who had a tense relationship with Ghani’s authorities, corresponding to Abdul-Ghani Shamsher. Each sections put up fierce resistance in opposition to rebel forces led by Muhammadzai Akhund, Tahir Mubariz, and the Taliban veteran Abdul-Jabbar Umari. In mid-August 2021, nonetheless, the battle instantly petered out in anticlimax when Ghazni governor Muhammad Daud, seeing the collapse of provinces elsewhere, quietly turned over the town to his Taliban counterparts. On condition that Daud was amongst Ghani’s Pashtun governors faraway from the north, his meek give up was rapidly – and wrongly – blamed by non-Pashtun politicians as the results of a Pashtun conspiracy between the Kabul regime and the Taliban.

In reality, the federal government reacted with outrage, and instantly imprisoned Daud after he had safely crossed Taliban strains. This harsh remedy maybe stiffened his counterpart in Wardak, Lawang Faizan; he refused a proposal of comparable give up by Taliban commander Rahimullah Mahmud, who as an alternative needed to seize the provincial capital Maidanshahar by power. With a lot of the remaining nation having been captured by this level, Loya Paktia adopted go well with; Taliban commander Walijan Hamza took over the Gardaiz corps command with no struggle. There was little doubt that Ghazni’s sudden downfall had shaken the federal government.

The East

Jap Afghanistan, a largely highland area overlooking the street from Kabul to Jalalabad and past, had been practically as vexatious for the Taliban motion as anyone else, with a significant Daesh entrance within the mountains persisting to at the present time. Consequently a lot of the Taliban command within the area was composed of veterans of the battle in opposition to Daesh; these included Nangarhar commander Nida Nadeem, Laghman commander Qari Zainul-Abideen, and Kunar commander Usman Turabi. Others, corresponding to Abdul-Hakeem Muhammad, got here from older Taliban networks in southeast Afghanistan quite than regionally.

Authorities forces have been equally sparse, comprising principally militias and police garrisons. The main battle within the east, at Laghman in Might 2021, was successful for military commander Yasin Zia, who was nonetheless quickly changed after personally main the marketing campaign. There have been scattered fights in Nuristan and Nangarhar over the summer time, however the main concern appears to have been a flash flood that killed scores of individuals and compelled some modicum of cooperation between Afghans.

The east was thus comparatively and unusually quiet; as provinces fell one after the other, Nangarhar governor Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, a longstanding aide of Ghani, turned over Jalalabad to his Taliban opponent Nida. A lot of the east fell in brief order simply hours earlier than Kabul’s takeover. But because the Daesh insurgency in opposition to Taliban rule has proven, quiet was very a lot a short lived state of affairs within the east.


The Afghan northeast had been a historic scene of frustration for the Taliban emirate within the Nineteen Nineties, however a quarter-century later the motion had made actual inroads within the area. This was greatest epitomised in Badakhshan; the one province by no means captured by the emirate within the Nineteen Nineties, by 2021 it was in notably weak form in opposition to strongly built-in native Taliban led by Badakhshi Tajiks Qari Fasihuddin and Amanuddin Mansur. Equally, the skilled Taliban commander within the Kapisa area on to Kabul’s north, Ihsanullah Baryal, had lengthy positioned particular emphasis on coopting native networks into the motion.

The efficiency of the military and affiliated militias was spotty. Baghlan province, garrisoned by Adam Matin, held out stubbornly early within the marketing campaign in opposition to a concerted assault by his Taliban opposing quantity Nisar Haqqyar. However Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan have been far flimsier. A lot of Kunduz, a historic stronghold for the Taliban on this area, was captured early on by rebel commander Muhammad Aka. By July 2021 this included the border cities Sherkhan Bandar and Imamsahib, and preventing reached inside the town itself; this regardless of a not too long ago based however subsequently undercut military corps headquarted in Kunduz.

Badakhshan’s garrison, led by Abbas Muttawakkili, fared little higher; a whole bunch of troopers escaped north into Tajikistan over the summer time. In the meantime Takhar’s sheriff, seasoned militia commander Abdul-Malik Mala, couldn’t forestall a gentle advance by Taliban commander Maulawi Nuraddin, who by July 2021 had taken the province’s border city Ishkamish. In comparison with the northern borderlands, the insurgents had been warier in coping with the southward path to Kabul, particularly the traditionally tough Panjsher province, however there have been occasional flares in violence; one among them put paid to Kapisa’s deputy governor, Azizur-Rahman Tawab. Already america’ abandonment of its longstanding Afghan stronghold, the Bagram airbase, had scarred regime morale.

By August 2021, the wind had been knocked out of the federal government’s sails. A lot of the area had been detached to the Kabul regime; after it fell, numerous them held out within the Panjsher valley beneath the management of Ghani’s erstwhile deputy Amrullah Saleh and defence minister Muhammadi. However not like the Nineteen Nineties Panjsher was now surrounded, and in September 2021 Fasihuddin managed to plow into the valley and end off the resistance.


Ashraf Ghani had blustered and stalled gamely within the eighteen months for the reason that Doha Accord. His bravado and cussed insistence on his regime’s legality in opposition to each Taliban and authorized opposition had the looks of conviction if not actuality. Even with the autumn of the south, he had recalled Sadat – now a favoured commander of presidency media – to function Kabul commander. Thus it was a shock when in mid-August 2021, surrounded on each facet, he instantly slipped away, finally rising within the United Arab Emirates. The morning after noticed shock amongst his lieutenants; defence minister Muhammadi, cursing Ghani’s treachery, disappeared with Saleh to their Panjsher house, and a shocked inside minister Abdul-Sattar Mirzakwal was left to switch energy to the Taliban military ready exterior the capital.

Equally stunned however solely too joyful to oblige, the Taliban entered Kabul. They have been welcomed by longstanding opposition leaders corresponding to Abdullah Abdullah, Gulbadin Hikmatyar, and Hamid Karzai, who appear to have seen no various to ensure safety within the capital. The Loya Paktia Taliban – together with Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brother Anas and uncle Khalilur-Rahman Ahmad, in addition to Kabul governor Abdul-Rahman Mansur – performed a significant function in successful over the town’s suspicious notables, whereas america, who retained management of the airport till summer time’s finish, rushed to evacuate their troops and dependents with a haste that mirrored their shock on the suddenness of the turnover.

In the meantime, Taliban army commander Abdul-Qayum Zakir and corps commander Salahuddin Ayubi made straight for the deserted palace. There, in due to Allah, they recited the Quran earlier than settling right down to drink within the second. Governance would show a completely completely different and larger problem, however they’d get pleasure from their astounding triumph first.

Leave a Comment