On July 8th, The POTUS assured the world that the U.S is leaving Afghanistan in ‘good hands’ – an army of 300,000 well-equipped soldiers, who have better combat training and the capacity to take on the mere 75,000 Taliban, and that the Taliban takeover was highly unlikely. Who would have thought that the Taliban (who were technically outgunned and outnumbered) would have swept across Afghanistan in just five weeks? The first major city fell on Aug 9 and in just six days, the Taliban were already at the gates of Kabul. Three weeks later, the last holdout in Panjshir valley, which has never been conquered, fell to the Taliban. Their blitzkrieg gains surprised everyone – including U.S intelligence. Before July, the overall assessment was that the Afghan government could hang on for as long as two years. But as the Taliban seized key districts and surrounded major cities, Afghan security forces started surrendering without a fight. The then latest view of intelligence analysts was that the capital could fall between six and 12 months, after U.S withdrawal. But in just a few weeks, the world had witnessed the colossal collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces – who were trained and equipped by the U.S for 20 years. And despite getting $83 billion dollars for training, aircraft, armored vehicles, and weapons, they just couldn’t stand their ground. The recent chain of events was just the final piece of the puzzle, but the path to this failure had been paved for years and there were several key factors that led to this collapse. The Taliban have always had the historical narrative of the fight against the invaders, so they were considered as ‘freedom fighters’ among the masses – fighting against the invaders and their puppets. Whereas, the only motivation for Afghan soldiers was $165 – $245 (depending upon their experience) that they were going to make in a month and an additional $75 if they were to be deployed in the ‘hot zones. On top of that, the ministries of defense and interiors were notoriously corrupt. Reports are now emerging that many soldiers were not paid for months, while the commanders siphoned off the money by creating ‘ghost soldiers’ to inflate the payrolls. They were always treated as second-tier and thus suffered terrible losses. As per the reports, at least 66,000 Afghan troops had been killed since 2001. The Taliban had also claimed to infiltrate the Afghan National Army when the ‘Green-on-blue’ attacks started to rise – creating the highest level of distrust among the coalition and Afghan forces. After which, the U.S/NATO had to refocus the training and assistance largely at the ministerial levels and less contact at the tactical level. Despite pouring vast sums of money in the name of ‘nation-building’ efforts in Afghanistan, U.S instead bred corruption in the process – At least this was the view of Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Taliban had capitalized on this weakness and created a parallel state using their ‘Shadow Governers’ who melted into the population. The locals started turning to Taliban courts, which were being seen as more effective and fair than the corrupt system. In one interview, Faizullah Khan (a Pakistani journalist who was held captive for six months by the Afghan government ) shared an eye-witness account of how the locals in masses were consulting the Taliban in the Jalalabad’s prison, in order to settle their disputes. As they got sick of the corrupt Afghan government and provincial leaders, who were often involved in organized crimes and drugs smuggling. The U.S and its allies had long operated in Afghanistan with complete impunity. Abusive night raids, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and indiscriminate airstrikes became their go-to methods in combatting the insurgency. However, that brute force strategy had backfired as it led to massive civilian casualties and started turning the masses against the Afghan government. Events like ‘Gardez-Killing’ began to surface – uncovering the horrors of the so-called war on terror. Jeremy Scahill (a well-known independent journalist and the author of the book ‘Dirty Wars: The World is a BattleField”) uncovered such stories, that even led to congressional investigations in the U.S. He exposed how bush administration created the ghost militias who operated from the shadows to conduct covert missions involving targetted killings, snatch and grab, secret prisons, direct drone, and cruise missile strikes. They were later legitimized and expanded by the Obama administration. Consequently, the Taliban were able to increase their local support and recruitment, even from the non-Pashtun districts. And despite the fact the U.S did take out some of their key leaders, such operations could barely put a dent in the Taliban’s resurgence. Because their structure was resilient and contrary to popular belief – It was centralized enough to be efficient but also flexible and diverse to adapt to the dynamic nature of guerilla warfare. The U.S had sent reinforcements in 2009 (an army of 21,000 troops) but even that couldn’t beat the Taliban who were gathering their strength and increasing their attacks. The Taliban had evolved from a guerilla organization to an organized political movement, capable of operating the parallel administration in large parts of Afghanistan, even with the presence of the U.S. And by 2018, the swaths of rural Afghanistan were effectively under Taliban control. Despite sending additional troops, the U.S had failed to gain any notable success. Even the U.S generals started admitting that no one could win a war in Afghanistan, calling this situation “a state of strategic stalemate”. Eventually, the peace deal was signed between the U.S and the Taliban in February 2020, The U.S committed to a phased withdrawal of all of its military forces, supporting civilian personnel and allies within 14 months, in exchange for the promise that the Taliban would not attack U.S/NATO interests in Afghanistan. The deadline was extended, the talks with Kabul’s administration were proved to be futile, Ghani’s re-election complicated the situation as well. The Taliban kept expanding their control and seized highways leading to major cities. As they were sensing victory after the withdrawal date was announced. They showed that they have learned from the mistakes of the past and were and were capable to avert the possible civil war by doing a series of surrender agreements with local warlords, rival tribes, and even with the commanders of the Afghan National Army. The Taliban’s initial plan was not to take Kabul by force, and it seemed that there was going to be an interim setup, but those hopes soon diminished when the president had fled and the Afghan army started abanding their posts and the rest is history. It took them 18 months to turn the situation from a strategic stalemate into a checkmate.