The lightning-quick advance by the Taliban rapidly overran Afghanistan and led to the absolute collapse of the Afghan army and security forces. 

As the Taliban were posing for pictures inside the presidential palace, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was fleeing the country to Uzbekistan even before the United States could withdraw its own diplomats. Crowds were rushing to the tarmac of Kabul airport trying to get out before the Taliban take over.

The United States had pumped between $80 and $89 billion into training and equipping the Afghan military and police. Nonetheless, they collapsed so utterly even before the withdrawal of the United States and its coalition was even complete.

It is a stunning and humiliating defeat for both the Afghan and U.S. governments. 

But how did it happen?

The Handwriting Was on the Wall

Intelligence officials had estimated that the Taliban would threaten many provincial capitals and cities by the fall. But those estimates were woefully inaccurate as they swept aside the Afghan army and security forces with ease. In far too many cases, not even a shot was fired. 

General Scott Miller, the last American commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, had pointed out that events taking place at the end of June were already hinting at the imminent collapse. 

“What we’re seeing is the rapid loss of district centers,” Miller had said. That was a fundamental change in the Taliban’s hitherto strategy. The Taliban had previously exerted influence over rural areas without attempting to seize any larger population centers.