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How The Taliban’s Devastating Takeover of Afghanistan Is Unfolding

Updated on August 16, 1:36 AM EDT

What You Need To Know

After the longest war in U.S. history spanning 20 years, the Taliban is once again the dominant force in Afghanistan. As U.S. and NATO troops withdrew, a sweeping Taliban offensive saw city after city fall with little or no resistance from the American-trained Afghan military, culminating with the fall of Kabul and the flight of President Ashraf Ghani.

The speed of Afghanistan’s collapse came as a shock to both NATO allies and the country’s civilian population, which fears a return to the dark days of brutal rule by Islamic fundamentalists that vastly diminished women’s rights.

During the two-decade conflict, which started as an attempt to root out the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. saw the deaths of more than 2,400 American soldiers and spent about $970 billion.

By The Numbers

  • 2,400 American soldiers killed since the start of the war almost two decades ago
  • 17,000 Estimated number of Afghans worked for the U.S. and now face becoming Taliban targets
  • 30,000 Number of Afghan soldiers and police the U.S. trained to fight the insurgents and keep the peace

Why It Matters

What the future holds for Afghans under Taliban rule is not yet known. The group has issued statements aimed at reassuring the population, saying it wants to form an “open, inclusive Islamic government” and that it will respect public property, provide a “safe” environment for business and that it will even provide amnesty for Afghans that “helped the invaders” — the legions of translators, drivers and other service providers who worked with the U.S. military throughout the conflict.

But signs from elsewhere in the country aren’t good. In recent weeks reports have emerged from fallen cities of reprisal killings, forced marriages, women being turned away from universities where they were studying and men ordered to grow beards.

In the U.S., the withdrawal of troops and the subsequent collapse of Kabul prompted condemnation from both sides of the political divide, with President Joe Biden facing fierce criticism for his continuation of former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal policy. The administration now faces the tough question of whether to engage with the new regime it struggled for so long to hold at bay, while trying to work out how it can help the thousands of Afghans that aided the American military.

China, meanwhile, has already met with Taliban representatives in recent weeks in an attempt to chart a path forward. Beijing has perhaps the most at stake in a stable Afghanistan, both to ensure violence doesn't spillover into its neighboring Xinjiang region and to protect billions of dollars worth of investments in Pakistan. Russia also has good relations with the Taliban.

    After this tragedy, can America’s word ever be trusted?