On the second full day with no U.S. troops on Afghan soil, the Taliban moved Wednesday to form a new Islamic government, preparing to appoint the movement’s leading religious figure, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, as the nation’s supreme authority, Taliban officials said.
The Taliban face a daunting challenge, pivoting from insurgence to governance after two decades as insurgents who battled international and Afghan forces, planted roadside bombs and plotted mass casualty bombings in densely packed urban centers.
Now, with the Taliban’s rule fully restored 20 years after it was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the group is confronted with the responsibility of running a country of some 40 million people devastated by more than 40 years of war.
There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the country and much of the population lives in crushing poverty, all amid a punishing drought and a Covid-19 pandemic. Food stocks distributed by the United Nations will likely run out for much of Afghanistan by the end of September, said Ramiz Alakbarov, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.
$9.4 billion in Afghan currency reserves in the United States, part of a cash pipeline that had long sustained a fragile U.S.-backed government dependent on foreign aid. Funds have also been cut off by international lenders, including the International Monetary Fund, sending inflation soaring and undermining the weak national currency, the afghani.
Electricity service, spotty and unreliable in the best of times, is failing, residents say. Fear is keeping many people at home instead of out working and shopping. Shortages of food and other daily necessities have been reported in a country that imports much of its food, fuel and electrical power. A third of Afghans were already coping with what the United Nations has called crisis levels of food insecurity.
suicide bomber, and at age 23 blew himself up in an attack in Helmand Province, the Taliban say.
Mr. Baradar filled a similar role during the Taliban’s first years in exile, directing the movement’s operations until his arrest by Pakistan in 2010.
After three years in a Pakistani prison and several more under house arrest, Mr. Baradar was released in 2019, and then led the Taliban delegation negotiating the troop withdrawal deal reached with the Trump administration in February 2020.
Other key positions in the government are expected to go to Sirajuddin Haqqani, another deputy and an influential operations leader within the movement, and Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, who is the son of the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who led the group until his death in 2013.
Mr. Haqqani, 48, who helped direct Taliban military operations, is also a leader of the brutal Haqqani Network, a mafia-like wing of the Taliban largely based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. The network was responsible for hostage-taking, attacks on U.S. forces, complex suicide attacks and targeted assassinations.
The political developments Wednesday injected a jolt of reality into the Taliban, whose members celebrated with gunfire and fireworks after the final planeload of U.S. troops and equipment soared away from the Kabul airport just before midnight Monday. On Tuesday, top Taliban leaders led journalists on a triumphant tour of the ransacked airport just hours after it had been occupied by U.S. troops.
100 to 200 Americans remain in the country, President Biden said Tuesday. Some have stayed by choice. Others were unable to reach the Kabul airport.
Tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted the United States or its international partners also remain stranded, according to estimates by U.S. officials. Many are permanent United States residents who were traveling in Afghanistan when the government and military collapsed with stunning speed and the Taliban seized control on Aug. 15.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
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Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
Taliban officials have made repeated public assurances that Afghans with proper passports and visas would be permitted to leave the country, regardless of their role during the 20-year American mission in Afghanistan.
About 6,000 Americans, the vast majority of them dual U.S.-Afghan citizens, were evacuated after Aug. 14, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Tuesday. Early this spring, the American Embassy in Kabul began issuing warnings to Americans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, citing a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
Mr. Blinken described “extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to depart the country.” He said diplomats made 55,000 calls and sent 33,000 emails to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan, and in some cases, walked them into the Kabul airport.
Mr. Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. government had alerted Americans 19 times since March to leave Afghanistan.
United Nations refugee agency recently warned that as many as half a million Afghans could flee by the end of the year, and urged countries in the region to keep their borders open for those seeking refuge.
Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for refugees, has estimated that about 3.5 million people have been displaced by violence within Afghanistan — half a million just since May. The majority of them are women and children.
On the Afghanistan side of the Pakistan border at Torkham, about 140 miles east of Kabul, some families in recent days have been huddling with their belongings, determined to flee the Taliban’s rule. There are also laborers from neighboring Afghan provinces who want to cross to earn a livelihood amid spiraling cash and food shortages.
Pakistan has said that it will not accept any more refugees from Afghanistan. Border officials are reportedly only allowing crossing by Pakistani citizens and the few Afghans who have visas.
While Afghan refugees living in Pakistan shuttled back and forth for decades without being asked questions, in recent years, Pakistan has made access more difficult, and built up a border fence 1,600 miles long.
KABUL, Afghanistan — In June, when the Taliban took the district of Imam Sahib in Afghanistan’s north, the insurgent commander who now ruled the area had a message for his new constituents, including some government employees: Keep working, open your shops and keep the city clean.
The water was turned back on, the power grid was repaired, garbage trucks collected trash and a government vehicle’s flat tire was mended — all under the Taliban’s direction.
Imam Sahib is one of dozens of districts caught up in a Taliban military offensive that has swiftly captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts, many in the north, since the U.S. withdrawal began in May.
It is all part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive across the country. The combination is a stark signal that the insurgents fully intend to try for all-out dominance of Afghanistan once the American pullout is finished.
have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.
report. Some homes there were burned down by the Taliban, residents said.
“The Taliban burned my house while my family was in the house,” said Sirajuddin Jamali, a tribal elder. “In 2015, a military base was under siege and we provided food and water for them, but now the Taliban are taking revenge,” Mr. Jamali sobbed. “Do they do the same in any area the Taliban take?”
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.
The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.
On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.
But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.
The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.
Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.
But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.
Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.
“They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.
Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s swagger is unmistakable. From the recent bellicose speech of their deputy leader, boasting of “conquests,” to sneering references to the “foreign masters” of the “illegitimate” Kabul government, to the Taliban’s own website tally of “puppets” killed — Afghan soldiers — they are promoting a bold message:
We have already won the war.
And that belief, grounded in military and political reality, is shaping Afghanistan’s volatile present.On the eve of talks in Turkey next month over the country’s future, it is the elephant in the room: the half-acknowledged truth that the Taliban have the upper hand and are thus showing little outward interest in compromise, or of going along with the dominant American idea, power-sharing.
While the Taliban’s current rhetoric is also propaganda, the grim sense of Taliban supremacy is dictating the response of a desperate Afghan government and influencing Afghanistan’s anxious foreign interlocutors. It contributes to the abandonment of dozens of checkpoints and falling morale among the Afghan security forces, already hammered by a “not sustainable” casualty rate of perhaps 3,000 a month, a senior Western diplomat in Kabul said.
The group doesn’t hide its pride at having compelled its principal adversary for 20 years, the United States to negotiate with the Taliban and, last year, to sign an agreement to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking foreign forces and to sever ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the American peace envoy — would merely be used by the Taliban as a “Trojan horse” for the seizure of power.
recent paper — though, he notes, this may be driven more by political imperative than a softening of ideology.
Elsewhere, the Taliban’s increasingly confident messaging has penetrated deep into its rank-and-file, in large part because events have borne it out.
People said that it is not possible to fire on U.S. forces,” said Muslim Mohabat, a former Taliban fighter from Watapor District in Kunar Province. “They would say the barrel of the rifle would bend if you open fire on them, but we attacked them, and nothing happened.”
“Then we kept attacking them and forced them to leave the valley,” said Mr. Mohabat, who fought in some of the most violent battles of the war with the United States.
In the insurgents’ view, their advances will inexorably lead to the end of the Kabul government.
“On the battlefield there is a sense that, ‘We’re stronger than ever,’’’ said Ashley Jackson, a Taliban expert at the Overseas Development Institute. “Power-sharing and democracy, these are anathema to their political culture.”
Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.