Days after the U.S. troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan, the resurgent Taliban claimed territory in provinces across the country. Hundreds of provincial governors surrendered without a fight after the Taliban assured them that they would not execute leaders in areas where they encountered no resistance.
On August 15, the Taliban officially took control of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani resigned his position and fled the country, clearing the way for the Taliban to take control of the government and reestablish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Observers in Afghanistan and the West were shocked by the speed with which the Taliban took over the country, and the U.S. was unprepared to evacuate its remaining citizens, leading to chaos and violence as people fought for limited space on departing aircraft. On August 26, terrorists from the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) executed a complex, coordinated attack against the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which included suicide bombers and gunfire, left at least 40 people dead, including 12 U.S. service members and many more Afghan civilians. U.S. intelligence agencies had predicted such an attack was likely, but the chaotic situation at the airport seems to have precluded any effective countermeasures.
This is not the first time the Taliban have ruled Afghanistan. From 1996 through 2001, the group controlled around three quarters of the country after seizing territory during the Afghan civil war. The Taliban’s rule was characterized by violence, the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, the elimination of women’s rights and education, and extensive support for Al Qaeda — which gave Al Qaeda cover to plan the September 11, 2001, attacks. While some observers have expressed hope that today’s Taliban may be different, the recent behavior of the group suggests otherwise. Meanwhile, dozens of terrorist groups have expressed jubilation at the Taliban victory, anticipating that it will provide greater support and opportunities for other extremists.