As he withdraws his troops from Afghanistan, After 20 years on the ground, ending the “eternal war”, the United States opens the path for the sweeping advance of the Taliban, while warning them that if they come to power they will be isolated. But the Taliban continue to take cities in rapid and alarming succession back to the past.
The insurgents have taken five of the 34 provincial capitals in less than a week. They are fighting with the government for control of others like Lashkar Gah in Helmand, and Kandahar and Farah in the homonymous provinces.
Why do they advance easily?
After 20 years of Western military presence and billions of dollars invested to train and reinforce Afghan government forces, for many it is inexplicable the collapse of the regular forces, sometimes fleeing the battle by the hundreds. Virtually the only ones fighting are small groups of the elite forces and the Afghan air force.
Talibanen in Kunduz, this Monday. Photo: AP
The success of Taliban Blitzkrieg heightens the need to resume stalled talks to end the fighting and create an inclusive interim government. But that doesn’t seem like the possible scenario at this point.
How did the Taliban come about?
The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashtun language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan after the withdrawal from Afghanistan of the troops of the Soviet Union.
The predominantly Pashtun movement is believed to have first appeared in religious seminaries or madrassas, mostly paid with money from Saudi Arabia, in which it was preached a hard line way of Sunni Islam, which enforces the severe law of sharia (Islamic law)
Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan. Photo: AP
The promises made by the Taliban, in the Pashtun areas that lie between Pakistan and Afghanistan, were to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of sharia, once in power.
From southwestern Afghanistan, the Taliban rapidly expanded their influence.
In September 1995 they captured the province of Herat, bordering Iran, and exactly one year later captured the Afghan capital Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, one of the founding fathers of the Afghan mujahideen (fighters) who resisted the Soviet occupation.
In 1998, the Taliban controlled almost 90% of Afghanistan.
Life under the Taliban
Tired of the excesses of the mujahideen and infighting after the expulsion of the Soviets, the general Afghan population welcomed the Taliban when they first appeared.
Women with burqa, during the Taliban government. Photo: AFP
Its initial popularity was due in large part to its success in rooting out corruption, curbing anarchy, and working to make the routes and areas under its control safe, thus boosting commerce.
However, the Taliban too introduced and supported punishments according to his strict interpretation of Islamic law: running publicly to murderers and adulterers who had been convicted and amputating hands those who had been found guilty of theft.
The men had to grow beards and the women had to wear a burqa that covered everything.
The men had to grow beards and the women had to wear a burqa that covered everything. Photo: AP
The Taliban too they banned television, music, movies, makeup and disavowed girls aged 10 and over from going to school, banned playing soccer, kite flying and watching videos
Some Afghans continued to do these things in secret, risking receiving extreme punishments.
The Taliban were accused of various cultural abuses and human rights violations.
A dramatic example was in 2001, when the Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, despite the condemnation and outrage this caused around the world.
The attack on the Twin Towers
The Taliban became one of the focal points of attention around the world after the attacks on the Twin Towers, in the United States, on September 11, 2001.
They were accused of serving as a sanctuary for the main suspects in the attacks: Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement.
US Marines in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2001. Photo: AP
On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition launched attacks in Afghanistan and, by the first week of December, the Taliban regime had already collapsed.
Twenty years later, history repeats itself with his unstoppable return.
Having survived a superpower during two decades of war, the Taliban began to seize vast tracts of territory, threatening to overthrow once again to a government in Kabul.
The group is now believed to be stronger in numbers than at any time since they were toppled in 2001, with up to 85,000 fighters full-time, according to recent NATO estimates.
Taliban advance towards taking control of Kabul. Photo: AP
Who is your leader?
Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada He was appointed Supreme Commander of the Taliban on May 25, 2016, after Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike.
In the 1980s, he participated in the Islamist resistance against the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan, but his reputation is more that of a religious leader than that of a military commander.
Akhundzada worked as head of the Sharia Courts in the 1990s.
The new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. Photo: AFP
He is believed to be in his 60s and has lived most of his life inside Afghanistan. However, according to experts, it keeps narrow links with the so-called Quetta Shura, Afghan Taliban leaders who claim to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
As the group’s supreme commander, Akhundzada is in charge of political, military and religious affairs.
What can happen
A civil war is already underway.
According to an assessment by US intelligence, the Afghan government could fall within six months of the US military’s departure, which will take effect on August 31.
Clarín newsroom, with information from agencies and the BBC