Sixteen years after they were ousted in the US-led invasion, the Taliban have fought their way back to control swathes of Afghanistan. The country remains mired in conflict, and recent months have seen a series of bloody attacks. In the south, key towns are now Taliban territory. The BBC’s Auliya Atrafi was invited by the militants to spend four days behind the front line in Helmand province witnessing life under their control.
In the town of Sangin, two dozen men sat cross-legged inside a huge mud compound. Under the full moon, their black turbans cast deep shadows over their sunburned features.
These were the Taliban’s special forces; the Red Unit. They sat quietly as they listened to their commander Mullah Taqi telling war stories, gently cradling their M4 machine guns. The M4s, with their night-vision scopes, were one of the main reasons they had captured nearly 85% of Helmand province from less-well-armed Afghan forces.
But these victories had presented Taliban leaders with an unexpected challenge.