How the Taliban stormed across Afghanistan in ten days

By The Visual Journalism Team
BBC News

  • Published
Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on 16 August.Image source, Getty Images

The Taliban swept across Afghanistan in just 10 days, taking control of towns and cities across the country.

Taliban fighters took their first provincial capital on 6 August - and by 15 August, they were at the gates of Kabul.

Their lightning advance prompted tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many arriving in the Afghan capital, others heading for neighbouring countries.

And there was chaos in Kabul, as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and thousands of his countrymen and women tried to do likewise.

US troops depart

Emboldened by the withdrawal of US and other international forces, in June, the Taliban already controlled large parts of the country.

But after 6 August, their advance accelerated with a new momentum.

Provincial capitals toppled in quick succession.

By 8 August, the Taliban had taken control in Kunduz.

Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar followed within a few days.

Afghan forces collapse

Despite 20 years of outside support, billions of dollars of funding, an extensive programme of training and US air support, the Afghan security forces largely collapsed.

In some areas, they did stand and fight.

In Lashkar Gah, Afghan troops were pinned back in key positions, as the Taliban attacked repeatedly.

Hundreds of commandos were sent in to restore order - but when the Taliban detonated a massive car bomb outside the police headquarters, on 11 August, the battle was largely over.

In many areas, Afghan units that found themselves running out of ammunition and other supplies simply fled.

Troops armed and trained by the US to safeguard ordinary Afghans left them to largely fend for themselves.

And in some places, the authorities agreed to allow the Taliban to take over, to avoid further bloodshed.

In Ghazni, reports suggest the police chief and governor were both allowed to leave the city in return for agreeing to a Taliban takeover.

On 14 August, Mazar-i-Sharif fell to the Taliban, with little resistance from Afghan troops, some of whom left the city and headed for the border with Uzbekistan at Haraitan.

'Humanitarian catastrophe'

By the 15 August, 17,600 people fleeing the Taliban had arrived in Kabul, with thousands more arriving all the time, according to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Image source, Getty Images

With very little support from the Afghan authorities, many were sleeping rough in parks and other public areas.

Some said they had come from captured towns where the Taliban were killing male family members who had worked for the security forces, and reimposing restrictions on women.

The World Food Programme said the conflict had "all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe".

Chaos in Kabul

As President Ghani fled the country, US embassy staff were helicoptered out of their heavily fortified compound.

And thousands of people were heading to Kabul airport.

Media caption,

Thousands of desperate Afghans descend on Kabul airport

Taliban fighters initially paused outside the city, while emergency talks were held at the presidential palace.

But they then moved in to take full control.

Uncertain future

Exactly how the Taliban intend to rule remains unclear - and may vary across the country.

Reports from inside Taliban-held territory so far give a mixed picture.

In Balkh, 20km (12 miles) from Mazar-i-Sharif, BBC News found women and girls allowed in public areas unaccompanied - but there were reports of a woman being murdered because of the way she had dressed.

In other places, including a rural northern district near the Tajik border, women have said they are now forced to cover themselves with a burka and cannot go out unaccompanied.

There are also reports of young women being offered to Taliban fighters for forced marriage.

Although, Taliban representatives in Qatar insist this is "a lie".

Twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan – what happened when?

From 9/11, to intense fighting on the ground, and now full withdrawal of US-led forces, here’s what happened.

9/11

Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, carries out the largest terror attack ever conducted on US soil.

The World Trade Centre is reduced to rubble
Image caption The World Trade Centre is reduced to rubble Image copyright by Getty

Four commercial airliners are hijacked. Two are flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, which collapses. One hits the Pentagon building in Washington, and one crashes into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people are killed.

First air strikes

A US-led coalition bombs Taliban and al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan. Targets include Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad.

The Taliban, who took power after a decade-long Soviet occupation was followed by civil war, refuse to hand over Bin Laden. Their air defences and small fleet of fighter aircraft are destroyed.

Fall of Kabul

The Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban rebels backed by coalition forces, enters Kabul as the Taliban flee the city.

Coalition-backed Northern Alliance fighters ride tanks into Kabul as the Taliban retreat
Image caption Coalition-backed Northern Alliance fighters ride tanks into Kabul as the Taliban retreat Image copyright by Getty

By the 13 November 2001, all Taliban have either fled or been neutralised. Other cities quickly fall.

New constitution

After protracted negotiations at a “loya jirga” or grand assembly, the new Afghan constitution is signed into law. The constitution paves the way for presidential elections in October 2004.

Hamid Karzai becomes president

Hamid Karzai led anti-Taliban groups around Kandahar before becoming president
Image caption Hamid Karzai led anti-Taliban groups around Kandahar before becoming president Image copyright by Getty

Hamid Karzai, the leader of the Popalzai Durrani tribe, becomes the first president under the new constitution. He serves two five-year terms as president.

UK troops deployed to Helmand

British troops arrive in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold in the south of the country.

Soldiers of the Parachute Regiment lead the first UK deployment to Helmand
Image caption Soldiers of the Parachute Regiment lead the first UK deployment to Helmand Image copyright by Getty

Their initial mission is to support reconstruction projects, but they are quickly drawn into combat operations. More than 450 British troops lose their lives in Afghanistan over the course of the conflict.

Obama’s surge

US President Barack Obama approves a major increase in the number of troops sent to Afghanistan. At their peak, they number about 140,000.

US troops in intense combat operations in the south of the country
Image caption US troops in intense combat operations in the south of the country Image copyright by Getty

The so-called “surge” is modelled on US strategy in Iraq where US forces focussed on protecting the civilian population as well as killing insurgent fighters.

Osama Bin Laden killed

Bin Laden is traced to a compound located less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy
Image caption Bin Laden is traced to a compound located less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy Image copyright by Getty

The leader of al-Qaeda is killed in an assault by US Navy Seals on a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan. Bin Laden’s body is removed and buried at sea. The operation ends a 10-year hunt led by the CIA.  The confirmation that Bin Laden had been living on Pakistani soil fuels accusations in the US that Pakistan is an unreliable ally in the war on terror.

Death of Mullah Omar

The founder of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, dies. His death is kept secret for more than two years.

The Taliban leader is believed to have suffered a shrapnel wound to his right eye in the 1980s
Image caption The Taliban leader is believed to have suffered a shrapnel wound to his right eye in the 1980s Image copyright by EPA

According to Afghan intelligence, Mullah Omar dies of health problems at a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Pakistan denies that he was in the country.

Nato ends combat operations

At a ceremony in Kabul, Nato ends its combat operations in Afghanistan. With the surge now over, the US withdraws thousands of troops.  Most of those who remain focus on training and supporting the Afghan security forces.

Taliban resurgence

The Taliban launch a series of suicide attacks, car bombings and other assaults. The parliament building in Kabul, and the city of Kunduz are attacked. Islamic State militants begin operations in Afghanistan.

Kabul's international airport is struck on 10 August 2015
Image caption Kabul's international airport is struck on 10 August 2015 Image copyright by Getty

Death toll announcement

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says more than 45,000 members of his country’s security forces have been killed since he became leader in 2014. The figure is far higher than previously thought.

US signs deal with Taliban

The US and the Taliban sign an “agreement for bringing peace” to Afghanistan, in Doha, Qatar. The US and Nato allies agree to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.

The deal lays out a timetable for full withdrawal
Image caption The deal lays out a timetable for full withdrawal Image copyright by Getty

Date for final withdrawal

US president Joe Biden announces that all US troops will leave Afghanistan by 11 September 2021.

Taliban return to power

In just over a month, the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan, taking control of towns and cities all over the country, including Kabul. Afghan security forces collapse in the face of the Taliban advance.

Taliban fighters face little opposition from Afghan security forces
Image caption Taliban fighters face little opposition from Afghan security forces Image copyright by Getty

Additional reporting by Matt Murphy