Who are the Taliban? The situation in Afghanistan, explained

Taliban fighters in Herat, Afghanistan’s third biggest city, after government forces pulled out following weeks of being under siege (Picture: AFP/Getty)

The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan’s second biggest city, Kandahar, as the militant group continue to make advances across the country.

The UN has urged neighbouring countries to keep their borders open as civilians continue to flee, while British nationals have been told to leave the country.

The group were removed from power by US-led forces in 2001 but are quickly gaining strength after American troops withdrew.

As the situation continues to escalate, and more cities fall to the Taliban, Boris Johnson has called an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the crisis.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban is a predominantly Pashtun Islamist fundamentalist group, currently seizing power in Afghanistan as the US withdraws its 20-year presence in the country.

The group ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, when a US-led invasion toppled the regime.

Taliban fighters stand over a damaged police vehicle along the roadside in Kandahar on August 13, 2021 (Picture: AFP via Getty)

The Taliban was formed in the early 1990s following the Soviet-Afghan War, which waged from 1979 to 1989.

The group were initially made up of predominantly young Pashtun tribesmen who studied in religious seminaries – where it is believed the movement first appeared.

The word ‘taliban’ means ‘students’ in Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages.

Initially, there was some support for the Taliban in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, after the years of Soviet occupation, as they promised to bring stability to the country, after decades of conflict.

The years that followed the Soviet occupation had been marred by corruption and fighting between rival mujahideen groups: something the Taliban promised to stamp out.

The group quickly grew their influence, seizing Herat in September 1995, and the capital of Kabul one year later.

From 1996 onwards, the Taliban ruled the South Asian country – which is bordered by Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China.

It called itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and implemented a years-long rule under their own, extremely strict interpretation of Islamic law – including banning women from leaving the house without a male relative present.

By 1998, the Taliban controlled around 90% of Afghanistan. But very few countries internationally recognised their rule – with only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates officially recognising their government.

Head of the Taliban delegation Abdul Salam Hanafi (right), with Taliban officials Amir Khan Muttaqi, Shahabuddin Delawar and Abdul Latif Mansour, in Doha, Qatar for talks with the Afghan government on August 12 (Picture: KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty)

In October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan as part of the ‘War on Terror’ – to target Islamic extremists Al-Qaeda, who were responsible for the September 11 terror attacks, which killed 2,977 American civilians.

The Taliban had been sheltering ringleader Osama Bin Laden as he planned the attacks.

The US Army ousted the Taliban in December that year and have maintained a presence ever since.

But in summer 2021, American troops started leaving the country, following a peace agreement made with President Donald Trump, which agreed on a 14-month withdrawal timetable, starting from February 2020.

Joe Biden has said he did ‘not regret’ his decision to withdraw troops, adding that Afghanistan’s government and security forces have ‘got to fight for themselves.’

Without US military presence – which is set to be fully removed by September – the Taliban has started to regain territory at a rapid pace.

What do the Taliban want and what is the current situation in Afghanistan?

The Taliban want to seize control of Afghanistan – and to return the country to its own, extremely strict interpretation of Islamic rule.

Pakistani soldiers (right) check stranded Afghan nationals at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 13, 2021, after the Taliban took control of the Afghan border town in a rapid offensive across the country (Picture: AFP/Getty)

In June 2019, the New York Times writer Mujib Mashal wrote that the ‘Taliban have remained officially vague about what kind of government they envision.’

But during their rule from 1996 to 2001, women were outlawed from being employed, educated, or seen outside the home without a male relative present.

Women were also forced to wear the burqa at all times, while men were forced to wear Islamic clothing, grow beards and wear turbans.

Young girls stopped being educated beyond the age of eight, and before then, they were only educated about Islam. Music, movies, TV and other entertainment forms were banned.

Punishments for breaking the law was severe – including whippings, floggings in public and executions.

Internally-displaced Afghan people, who fled from the northern province due to battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces, gather to receive free food being distributed by Shiite men at Shahr-e-Naw Park in Kabul on August 13 (Picture: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty)

Recent reports claim Taliban commanders have ordered imams to bring them unwed women, and girls as young as 12, for soldiers to marry – as they’re viewed as ‘qhanimat’ (spoils of war).

US intelligence officials have said the capital, Kabul, could fall in the next month – with one Afghan man, who fled there, already saying it’s ‘not safe’.

Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed, injured or displaced. Food shortages are rife, with many displaced people reaching Kabul, or staying in camps on the streets.

One interpreter’s family shared with Metro.co.uk they cried ‘tears of joy’ after escaping the conflict on a ‘freedom flight’ to the UK.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, 400,000 Afghan people have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year.

Amid the deepening crisis, the UK is to deploy 600 troops to evacuate British nationals from the country, while the government is holding emergency talks on Friday to discuss the situation.


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