When Afghan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF) surrendered to Taliban unit after unit, people and media viewed it with contempt; describing it as an act of cowardice. But now when the dust of the Taliban’s rampaging victory is subsiding, the army’s refusal to fight back appears rather saner as it stopped Afghanistan from sliding into a Syria-like situation. As soon as the US resumed the drawdown of its remaining troops from Afghanistan on May 1 this year, a large number of districts in rural areas of the country fell to the Taliban without any resistance. Those initial gains of the Taliban exposed many weaknesses of the Afghan National Army. It came out that ANDSF foot soldiers had been working without salary for many months. Besides, they also faced a scarcity of equipment and fuel. Despite that, journalists and analysts covering Afghanistan, in keeping with the Afghan history, overlooked the Taliban’s gains as far-flung rural districts had never had any significance in Afghan warfare. The government’s authority in Afghanistan has always remained restricted to big cities. Secondly, Afghanistan never had an organised army, which we can expect in any modern state. Traditionally, the loosely organised Afghan military force had consisted of regional warlords, given ranks according to the force under their tribal command. Even the ANDSF, which the US and NATO raised into an army over the last 20 years, was not immune to this drawback. There have been accusations of a large number of ghost soldiers present in the army and non-payment of salaries to many genuine staff members. Such a roughly combined force could not be expected to counter the Taliban in rural areas where logistic support and reinforcement are difficult to reach on time. However, by the time the Taliban reached the thresholds of major cities, ANDSF and its special operation force, equally supported by the popular uprising militias, forcefully resisted their initial attacks in Helmand, Herat, Kandahar and the eastern Nangarhar and Paktya provinces. Any resistance against the violent and jihad-emboldened Taliban would have obliterated whatever Afghanistan was left with. The situation in the non-Pashtoon northern provinces was a bit difficult as the regional and local warlords under the command of Uzbek General, Abdul Rashid Dostum Tajik chieftains, Atta Muhammad Nur and Ahmad Masud, had practically been weakened as their ethnic leaders were sidelined over the recent decades. Emboldened by the victories in the southern, western and eastern provinces just a week before the Taliban’s final march on Kabul, the Afghan Army took to the north as General Dostum and Atta Muhammad Noor were hastily restored to their might in Mazar-e-Sharif. Several major controversial steps, including replacement of the Army, the transfer of General Sami Sadat, a triumphant corps commander in the strategic Lashkargah city in the middle of the war and total shifting of focus to the north, left the southern and western provinces vulnerable. Despite that, compromises and secret deals were seen more at work behind the Taliban’s abrupt victories than any weakness of ANDSF commanders. While General Dostum was preparing to launch a counteroffensive against the Taliban in the northwestern Jawzjan province, Dawood Laghmani, the governor of the southern Ghazni province, surrendered to the Taliban without a fire-shot. Earlier, Zaranj city of Nimroz province on the Iranian border has fallen to the Taliban in the same manner. Yet, it did not have as much impact as it was a far off desert province. Simultaneously, Ismail Khan, the governor of the western Herat province, who had pushed back a Taliban attack with massive public support just days back, capitulated to the Taliban without any visible justification. At the very moment, Zabihullah Mohmand, the corps commander of Mazar-e-Sharif, surrendered to the Taliban while General Dostum and Atta Muhammad Nur had to flee to Uzbekistan; accusing the former of handing over all ANDSF ammunition to the Taliban. These unexpected defeats greatly demoralised the remaining units. Thus, commanders of the Afghan army, President Ashraf Ghani and other government leaders were left with no option but either to surrender or be perished. While fleeing the country, Ghani said the siege of Kabul at the hands of Taliban left him with only two options: to fight back and confront hundreds of thousands of Kabul residents to bloodshed or to defect. He said he had chosen the second option to avoid bloodshed. This act of the president not only left his government virtually dissolved but also melted away the army. Many Afghan and international journalists and analysts, including Americans, equally blamed the debacle of Afghanistan on the hasty and unplanned decision of the Biden administration to withdraw the remaining US forces by September 11 this year. The withdrawal of the remaining US-NATO troops from Afghanistan was very much on the cards and no one had disputed its need. President Biden was correct when he announced on April 29 this year to end this “forever war” as it “was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation-building.” However, it also remains a fact that it was not a war wished by the Afghan people themselves, nor had any Afghan invited the US forces to their country. If Al Qaeda had attacked the US and the Taliban had hosted it in Afghanistan, Washington could return as soon as it had accomplished its objective of bombing both Taliban and Al Qaeda into “stone-age.” But if Americans remained in Afghanistan and took upon themselves the task of national-building, which, according to President Biden, Washington had never meant at all, then the war-weary Afghans, and of course their government and civil and military officials who had served Americans during all these long years, deserved to be taken care of while planning to withdraw the US forces from the country. There were even conspiracy theories aired on social media that this was all part of the deal between the US and Taliban though sanity would not give any credence to such accusations. Whatever might be the reasons for the disgraceful capitulation of the Afghan army, the fact remains that any resistance against the violent and jihad-emboldened Taliban would have not only obliterated whatever Afghanistan was left with, but also unleashed such a destructive civil war, which might have faced Afghanistan with the same fate as that of Syria. The writer is an independent freelance journalist based in Islamabad.