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How did the Taliban take over Afghanistan so fast?

  • Published at 04:31 pm August 21st, 2021
File photo: Members of Taliban forces sit at a checkpost in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021 Reuters

It took the Taliban little more than a month to brush aside the Afghan Army amid the pullout of US-led Nato forces

Despite US intelligence speculations, as reported on August 12, that the Taliban may capture Kabul in 90 days, the Afghan government fell to the insurgents in just three days. 

In fact, the entire takeover took place in less than 10 days since the first provincial capital of Zaranj was taken by the Taliban.

Afghan government forces on Sunday collapsed without the support of the US military, which invaded the South Asian country in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, toppling the Taliban for backing Al-Qaeda.

Despite about $89 billion budgeted for training the Afghan Army, it took the Taliban little more than a month to brush it aside amid the pullout of US-led Nato forces. 

“The swift Taliban takeover shows how utterly dependent the Afghan state was on the US-led coalition, materially and psychologically. Even before the US withdrawal, the Afghan government and security forces were fraying at the seams,” said Michigan University Professor John Ciorciari. 

What else went wrong? 

Among the key causes, analysts say, are intelligence failures, a more powerful Taliban, corruption, money, cultural differences and willpower, reads a CNBC article.

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“While the end result and bloodletting once we left was never in doubt, the speed of collapse is unreal,” said one former US intelligence official, requesting anonymity.

“Why were the Taliban able to so quickly take over? This is a masterpiece, frankly, operationally,” said Michael Zacchea, a retired US Marine, questioning: “Why were they able to take the country faster than we did in 2001?”

Intel failure 

The Taliban’s rapid takeover suggests that US military intelligence failed in its assessment of the situation, according to Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“This is an intelligence failure of the highest order,” he said.

Roggio said the Taliban pre-positioned equipment and materials, organized, planned and executed a “massive offensive” since early May before beginning its “final assault”.

Slack will to fight

Another key factor that went the Taliban’s way is the absence of strong will to resist them while making gains across the provincial cities, one after another.  

Instead, the Islamist hardliners brokered a series of surrenders, said Jack Watling, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

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When they began making headway in cities, many Afghan forces gave in to them.

“The Taliban would infiltrate urban areas, assassinating key people like pilots, threatening the families of commanders, saying if you capitulate, you’ll save your family,” Watling said.

“A lot of people, because they lacked confidence that Kabul would be able to save them, capitulated.”

The news from the Biden administration of the full US withdrawal sped this up, said Columbia University Professor Stephen Biddle.

Graft and military weakness

Even if there was prolonged fighting, the Taliban would have still won, believes Watling.  

“And this is because the Afghan National Army is comprised of lots of units that are systemically corrupt, have no effective command and control, they don’t know how many people are in their own units, most of their equipment has been taken apart, stolen and sold off, and so they were a completely dysfunctional force.”

It’s also because the Afghan military is woefully underpaid, underfed and undercompensated by the leadership in Kabul. Many army units would sell their equipment to the Taliban for cash.

Many experts also blamed America’s failure in understanding Afghan history and its culture — and how drastically it differs from any Western nation. Also, Taliban’s high enthusiasm to be more efficient than ever before paid off.