Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Afghanistan’s Conflict in 2021 (1): The Taleban’s sweeping offensive as told by people on the ground

Martine van Bijlert AAN Team 39 min

As Afghanistan’s former leaders publicly reflect and comment on the events that led to the fall of the Republic, it has been easy to lose sight of what those months in the summer of 2021 were like for the people who lived through them. In this first of two reports we look back at 2021’s momentous changes. We hear from interviewees from across the country as they describe how the Taleban swept into their districts and cities in the summer of 2021. The story fragments, gathered by AAN researchers and compiled by Martine van Bijlert, show a wide range of experiences, as district after district and later provincial capitals, and finally Kabul city, fell to the Taleban with dizzying speed. The report ends with three eyewitness accounts from Panjshir, the province that held out the longest and was finally captured by the Taleban in early September. 

An internally displaced family leaves Panjshir province for Kabul in a taxi on 15 September 2021. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

In the summer of 2021, as districts were rapidly falling to the Taleban, AAN set out to find out what life was like in the areas that were newly coming under Taleban control. The first interviews were conducted in August, less than a week before Kabul fell on 15 August. The research was temporarily halted, while everyone grappled with the new situation, and revived again in late September, with a new focus: what does living under the new Taleban government mean for the millions of Afghans who had to adjust to this abrupt transformation. A full report is forthcoming, but as part of our look back at the events of 2021, we present here what the interviewees told us about how their own districts and cities fell. [1]For the research project “Living under the New Taleban Government” AAN conducted 42 qualitative, semi-structured interviews in 26 provinces. The first five interviews took place between 9 and 12 … Continue reading

The compilation, based on 42 interviews in 26 provinces, does not cover all major takeovers, and not all interviewees had inside or even detailed information. But taken together, they provide a textured and nuanced picture of what happened across the country. The accounts reveal a great variety in terms of the levels of violence, the duration of the fighting or standoff, the rate of resistance by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the pace of the takeovers and the extent of suffering among civilians. There are descriptions of fierce fighting, particularly early on and around the cities, and of desperate attempts by individual ANSF units to hold on to their positions. Small pockets of besieged security forces left to fend for themselves often held off Taleban attacks for weeks. This also explains the anger and confusion when people talk about the lapses in leadership and support from Kabul and how, as a result, military units were often unable, no longer willing or sometimes not even authorised to fight back against the Taleban onslaught. 

Location of the interviewees. Map by Roger Helms for AAN.

The report is divided into three sections that correspond to the three phases in the Taleban’s push for full control of the country: 

  1. June, July and early August: the rapid capture of districts across the country (see also AAN reporting herehere, and here).
  2. The ten days between 6 and 15 August, when every provincial capital except Panjshir, including Kabul, surrendered to the Taleban (see also AAN’s reporting at the time here and here), starting with the fall of Zaranj in Nimruz on 6 August, followed by the subsequent capture of most of the northern capitals and the – in hindsight – unstoppable collapse of the rest of the country, as the Taleban moved towards Kabul;
  3. The Taleban offensive against Panjshir, where resistance to the new government had persisted, concluded with the fall of its provincial centre on 6 September, exactly a month after the fall of Zaranj. Due to the information blockade, it has not been easy to determine what exactly happened when Taleban troops from across the country amassed and entered the valley. 

The accounts, taken together, remind us of the suffering, fear and uncertainty that prevailed in those months. Farmers, already reeling from two years of severe drought, could not tend their crops because of the fighting. Airstrikes and artillery damaged neighbourhoods. Inhabitants of entire areas were displaced, in response to or in anticipation of violence, war and assault, including persistent rumours of systematic forced marriages.

The accounts also show us that the experience of the Republic’s collapse has not been the same for everyone across the country. They describe a complicated mix of resistance, surrender and negotiation that was different for every area. Several interviewees spoke of how the Taleban had actively recruited associates or intermediaries. Others focused on the role of the security forces, how they kept fighting because they didn’t dare to surrender, or abandoned the fight because they could no longer resist. How the security forces fled before the population realised the Taleban were coming or were asked to leave by the local residents in an attempt to prevent bloodshed. Several interviewees described decisions by the security leadership in Kabul that had undercut the military units that had still wanted to defend their areas and left them fatally isolated. The sense of betrayal and bewilderment is still palpable. 

Many interviewees also showed a kind of resigned relief – in the rest of the interview, but also when discussing the takeover: that life was returning to a semblance of normalcy; that the worst – mass killings, mass forced marriages – had not happened (at least not yet). At the same time, they described how local Taleban assurances that people would be left alone often meant very little, with former security and government officials being harassed, beaten, detained and killed. Like with the looting that many of them said had taken place during the days around the takeover, the interviewees were often not sure who was behind the killings and beatings. Many of them refuted the Taleban’s insistence that they had nothing to do with it, but also noted how others – ordinary people, former government officials, old rivals – often used the chaos or the cover of the Taleban to settle scores or grab what they could. 

These accounts, finally, provide a snapshot of the Taleban’s rush to power during the last ninety days of the Republic and how, even towards the end, as the large cities were falling one by one, people still expected at least Kabul to hold out. 

The accounts are presented below in chronological order, ie in the order in which the districts and cities fell or surrendered to the Taleban. The dates have been taken from a list compiled by Roger Helms and the AAN Team, based on a combination of news reports and local sources. Some interviewees are quoted more than once. Several of them happened to be elsewhere when the Taleban arrived – either for work or because they had fled the fighting – and returned to their own area after the Taleban takeover. Others, conversely, relocated after the takeover, particularly those who had worked for the previous government. As a result, they could tell us about events and developments in more than one location. 

The conversations have been lightly edited for clarity and flow and are presented with the understanding that these are all individual, subjective accounts of complex developments (as illustrated in the few cases where more than one person comments on what happened in the same place). 

This report showcases maps by Roger Helms which detail when Afghanistan’s districts and provincial capitals fell to the Taleban, based on research carried out by Roger and the AAN team between May and September 2021. His full-size map can be viewed here:

I. Districts that fell before the accelerated rush towards Kabul in August

The earliest districts to fall, within our sample of interviewees, were Jaghatu in Ghazni in the southeast and Sozma Qala in Sar-e Pul in the north, on respectively 8 and 12 June. At that time, it was not yet clear how rapidly the Taleban onslaught would accelerate. 

Graph by Roger Helms for AAN

Jaghatu district in Ghazni (district centre fell on 8 June): The Taleban took our area after a [short] fight; the security forces only resisted for an hour and a half. They had been surrounded for a week and didn’t have any food or water left. It was raining at that time and the soldiers were drinking rainwater. They finally managed to leave when other forces came from Nawur district to get them. [Hazara woman, teacher from Jaghatu in Ghazni]

Sozma Qala district in Sar-e Pul (12 June): There was some fighting, but it was not very severe. It was sporadic and continued for about two months. The Taleban couldn’t capture the area during that time. A couple of days before the takeover, the number of Taleban fighters increased and the government forces could no longer defend the district centre and the Taleban finally captured it. They didn’t harm anybody. [Uzbek man, farmer from Sozma Qala in Sar-e Pul]

Lash-e Juwayn (Farah), Dasht-e Archi (Kunduz) and Andkhoi (Faryab), in the north, all fell between mid and late June. In Lash-e Juwayn and Andkhoi, the fighting lasted two days and two nights, after which the security forces were overpowered and forced to flee. In Dasht-e Archi the takeover was described as “peaceful,” but there was still looting.  

Lash-e Juwayn district in Farah (13 June): There were no negotiations in our area. The Taleban took control of Lash-e Juwayn after two consecutive nights of fighting. There was no negotiation between the Taleban and the security forces. Several soldiers were killed. Rockets were fired by both sides and hit civilian houses. So people had to leave the area and some of them were killed. The district fell because of the fighting. [Sayed man, unemployed, from Lash-e Juwayn in Farah]

Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz (20 June): The Taleban took the area very peacefully. There was no fighting in the district. When they came, they stopped people from going to the district centre for three days. After that, they allowed people to visit the district bazaar. There was looting of the district centre, the police chief headquarters, police posts and government offices – people still think that either Taleban looted the bazaar themselves or tasked their relatives and associates to do it. The security officials fled the district, but the Taleban didn’t harm the other government employees [who stayed]. The Taleban arrested two famous police commanders [Afghan Local Police], both Uzbeks, who were well-known for abusing and harassing the people, but they released them after a few days. [Pashtun man, farmer from Dasht-e Archi district in Kunduz]

Pashtun Kot district in Faryab (unclear when the district centre fell, the main military base was vacated on 20 June): We left Pashtun Kot before the Taleban captured the district and went to the provincial capital Maimana. In Pashtun Kot, the war was raging. Our neighbours’ houses were burned. The Taleban broke into people’s houses during the fighting. They stole their supplies and ate their food. They entered the home of one of my relatives and destroyed their belongings. The Taleban denied doing so, but it became clear later that they had done it. [Uzbek woman, pharmacist, now unemployed, from Pashtun Kot/Maimana in Faryab]

Andkhoi district in Faryab (26 June): After 15-20 years of no fighting in Andkhoi, the Taleban came and there was fighting for two days and two nights. The government forces were under a lot of pressure and there was no support from the central government or any air support. The NDS [National Directorate of Security] officer, the commander of the frontier forces and the commander of the uprising forces were all in the district, but they couldn’t withstand the military pressure from the Taleban, so they fled. [Uzbek woman, local council member from Andkhoi in Faryab] 

Baraki Barak district in Logar (29 June): There has been fighting in Baraki Barak district for years. In the last year, the government was only present in the district centre; the other areas were under Taleban control. The Taleban attacked the district centre several times, but the government resisted. Then two months ago [in June], the Taleban intensified their fighting. In the end, the district centre was surrendered without a fight, based on a deal with the local government. The government forces just left the district and the Taleban took control very calmly. [Tajik man, tribal elder from Baraki Barak in Logar]

Several interviewees described how they believed, had heard or knew that the army in their district had either been ordered to retreat or had been prevented from fighting by the central government. This was, for instance, the case for Eshkashem in Badakhshan, which fell in early July:

Eshkashem district in Badakhshan (5 July): First the Taleban took Zebak district [to the south of Eshkashem] at one in the afternoon. Then they arrived in Eshkashem at around six in the evening. All the soldiers left and escaped to Tajikistan, leaving most of their weapons behind. I don’t know if they negotiated with the Taleban, but I heard the army didn’t have permission from the presidential office to resist. So they had to escape to save their lives. But the [ordinary] people didn’t flee. We didn’t leave. The takeover was peaceful and the Taleban didn’t kill anyone. 

On the first night of the takeover, government offices were looted, but the Taleban said they had nothing to do with this. Since then, there’s been no looting. The Taleban don’t bother the people. Most of them are from [neighbouring] Warduj district and some are from here, from Eshkashem. Ethnically, they are Tajik. In the past, Eshkashem was a very free area, even more so than Kabul, but now, freedom is limited here. [Tajik woman, (now) unemployed, from Eshkashem district in Badakhshan]

A resident from Spin Boldak, who was interviewed in early August before the fall of Kabul, described the surrender of government forces to the Taleban there in mid-July, as well as the brief uprising that ended in brutal retributions: 

Spin Boldak (14 July): Spin Boldak surrendered to the Taleban. They came at night to the Wesh bazaar [on the Pakistan border]. I think a deal had already been made and that was why there were no [big] clashes. Some policemen started fighting the Taleban; they weren’t aware of the deal. The Taleban called to them through loudspeakers, shouting: “Don’t fight. Your commanders have already surrendered.”

Later [after the Taleban had taken the district centre], government forces attacked the Taleban again and pushed them back a lot. Some military forces, police and army, started firing at them from their homes. The Taleban killed some of them and captured many others; their fate is still unknown. The people who attacked the Taleban had already received letters stating that they’d been forgiven. So the Taleban knew their home addresses and arrested them all. We heard that they killed around a hundred security officers after their arrest and that they took hundreds more to the other side of the Durand Line. I know of six brothers from one family who were all taken from their house. All were killed, except the youngest who drives a zaranj [rickshaw]. They were from Arghistan district and worked for the security forces. [Pashtun man, health worker from Spin Boldak in Kandahar]

Map by Roger Helms for AAN.

II The acceleration towards the end, as provincial capitals start falling in early August

As the first provincial capitals started to fall in early August, the pace of the takeover quickened: Zaranj in Nimruz on 6 August (see AAN report here) and then Sheberghan in Jawzjan on 7 August. Two interviewees from Sheberghan describe how the fierce fighting outside the provincial centre led many people first to come to the city and then leave once the assault on the city started. However, they have diverging views on how badly the fighting had caused damage and death in the city. One commented that the Taleban must have been helped by locals, either because they supported the movement or wanted the violence to end. 

Sheberghan (7 August): There’d been fighting around the city for about one and a half months. In the end, the Taleban took our area with very little fighting. It started in the night on 6 August and they took the city the next morning at around 10 am. During the fighting, there were airstrikes, but there were not many casualties or much damage. Only three shops were burned, two clothing stores and a cotton store. Thank God, there were no casualties. In the beginning, people were careful. For about one month, girls and women didn’t come out very much to the bazaar to shop or pass the time. Now, I see girls and women going out, dressed like they used to. [Uzbek man, education department official from Sheberghan in Jawzjan] 

Sheberghan (7 August): Before the takeover, there had been fighting around the city for about a month. The previous air force had problems [accurately] targeting the Taleban and many civilian homes were destroyed and people killed. The Taleban also entered people’s houses to save themselves. People who were fleeing the fighting came to the provincial capital, but when fighting started in the provincial capital, we had to leave the city and go to a safe place. My father stayed because we didn’t want our house to be looted. Then the Taleban came and told him they wanted to use our house to fire rockets against the air force. They told my father: “It’s up to you whether you stay or leave, but if you’re killed, you’re responsible.” After that, he joined us in Eid Mahala. We stayed there for three days until the Taleban captured it. Then we went to Aqcha district. 

The Taleban controlled Aqcha, but at least there was no war there. Because the Taleban came [to Sheberghan from the south] from Sar-e Pul and Sancharak, half of the people from Sheberghan escaped to Aqcha district [which is to the east], but the people who had relatives in Kabul or Mazar went there. People left everything behind, including their money and gold, to save their lives. 

The Taleban couldn’t take Sheberghan [by force]. There was a political deal – our area was sold and given to them with the help of local people. I’m saying this because the streets in Sheberghan are very complex and the Taleban could never have entered without the help of spies. I heard that in the Khair Khana area of Sheberghan, their spies were drawing maps and helping them find their way during the war. Sheberghan’s leader, Abdul Rashid Dostum, didn’t want to negotiate. But the people preferred a negotiated takeover, instead of war. 

In Aqcha, the Taleban didn’t bother people but they did ask them to prepare food. People took turns, each [family] feeding them once a week. In the districts, the Taleban slaughtered sheep that belonged to the people and cooked the meat for themselves. In the cities, they ate the food people had stored in their homes. But they couldn’t take other things away with them because they couldn’t carry it all by motorcycle. [Uzbek woman, loan manager and lecturer from Sheberghan city in Jawzjan]

The capitals of Kunduz, Sar-e Pul and Takhar provinces fell the next day, on 8 August. In the days after that, cities continued to fall in the north, including Aibak, capital of Samangan, Pul-e Khumri in Baghlan and Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan. In all cases, fierce fighting preceded the takeover. In some places, the surrounding districts and outskirts were caught up in the conflict, but it did not move inside the cities. In other places, interviewees described fierce fighting inside the city, including in Kunduz and Pul-e Khumri.

Kunduz city (8 August): When the fighting started in my area, we were at a wedding, so we left immediately and went home. That night the Taleban took the entire city. Before the takeover, there’d been fighting for a long time. Many people had become displaced and were staying in schools, including in the school in front of my house. Then the fighting started on our street because a commander lived there. So the people moved to Kabul or safer areas in Kunduz city. Finally, the Taleban won the war and captured Kunduz city by force, without negotiation. Two days after the takeover, we also went to Kabul because we thought the previous government would fight to retake Kunduz. [Sayed woman, (now) unemployed, from Kunduz city]

Internally displaced Afghan families from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan provinces who fled the fighting between Taliban and Afghan security forces sit in front of makeshift tents at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP, 11 August 2021.

Aibak, provincial capital of Samangan (9 August): One day before the Taleban took Aibak, we went to Kabul and stayed there for ten days. We left because we’d heard that the Taleban would marry single girls by force. We were also afraid of the fighting. All our neighbours fled too, to save themselves. First, the Taleban took over Feroz Nakhchir district, where many were killed, but the capture of Aibak happened without a fight. It was handed over to the Taleban after the army escaped. [Sayed woman, bank employee from Aibak town in Samangan] 

Pul-e Khumri city (10 August): In the area where I live, there was fighting for 40 days. All the families left their homes. My family went to Mazar-e Sharif and I stayed alone in the house. During the fighting, I went to my neighbour’s house to shelter in his basement. A rocket hit my home and destroyed part of a wall. So many buildings were destroyed during the fighting – petrol stations, shops, homes. And many houses belonging to commanders were broken into and looted by unknown people. 

Finally, the [government] forces left, and the Taleban took control of my area within an hour. I stayed at home to keep our house safe. The Taleban came twice that night, after 2 in the morning, asking if anybody was home. But they did not harm anyone. My family returned a week after the takeover. By that time, they’d been in Mazar for more than a month. [Pashai man, (now) unemployed, from Pul-e Khumri city in Baghlan]

Faizabad, provincial capital of Badakhshan (10 August): The Taleban took Faizabad, not because they won a battle, but because the central government ordered the army not to fight. There had been intense fighting on all four sides of the city until two days before the takeover. 40 to 50 men were killed on both sides every night. Many families were displaced in the fighting and came to Faizabad; six families stayed in my house for a few days. There was an order from the presidential palace to cede ground, which really demoralised the army – that’s why they left and escaped to different places. Government officials did what the central government told them, although some were also in touch with the Taleban by phone. [Uzbek man, civil engineer from Faizabad in Badakhshan]

After the cascading fall of provinces in the north, other provincial capitals started surrendering, including Kandahar, Herat and Badghis, all on 12 August:

Kandahar city (12 August): The Taleban fought for one and half months to capture Kandahar. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. The Taleban surrounded the city from all four sides and all the roads were blocked. People, displaced by the fighting in the districts, were coming into the city. When the numbers increased, the people in the city started thinking about leaving because they were afraid there’d be fighting in the city too. Many people went to Kabul. Then, two days before the Taleban takeover, all [civilian] flights were stopped. That night, when the Taleban captured Kandahar, high-ranking government officials and Afghan special forces who were trained by the US escaped by air. Those who were in lower positions were left behind. 

Because many people had left their homes, thieves robbed people’s homes and government offices. My house is near the University of Kandahar and in the morning, people came to loot the university. They even broke into schools to steal things. Fortunately, the Taleban didn’t kill anyone in my area. But I saw reports on social media that Taleban fighters, who were taking revenge for personal reasons, killed some people. After they captured Kandahar, the Taleban looked for government buildings to house their fighters and they searched houses where they suspected there were weapons. [Pashtun man, medical student from Kandahar city]

Herat city (12 August): We were evacuated to Kabul by the organisation my mother works for, before the takeover [of Herat]. A few days after we left, the Taleban captured the city. We left because we were even afraid of the name ‘Taleb’. There was already fighting between the mujahedin [Uprising Forces] and the Taleban around the city. You could hear the sound of rockets being fired from the east and south. We were afraid that Herat airport would soon close, that’s why we left immediately. Unfortunately, soon after, Kabul was also captured by the Taleban. Kabul’s fall was peaceful and without any fighting, but Herat’s takeover was not peaceful at all. But it is better to use the word ‘surrender’ instead of takeover because the Taleban didn’t capture Afghanistan, especially not Kabul; it was given to them. 

In Herat, all the people were already trying to move to safer areas. Then, when we came to Kabul, we couldn’t find a place to stay. All the guesthouses, hotels and parks were full of displaced people. I think many people moved to Kabul because they thought it would be the last province to fall. In the end, Kabul was the second last province to come under Taleban control. 

During our one and half month stay in Kabul, we first rented a house in the area behind Kabul airport, but the evacuation process attracted so many people that the area became very crowded, and we heard the horrible sound of shooting from the airport, so we left and rented another house in Kart-e-Char. But Kabul was slowly becoming insecure [after its capture], so we came back to Herat. In general, Herat’s situation is better, maybe because the Taleban in Kabul are from Pakistan and different provinces [of Afghanistan]. In Herat, maybe the Taleban are from Herat province itself. Also, they’re rarely visible in the city. People are afraid of looking at the Taleban. So, people feel more relaxed in places where they don’t have a big presence.

When we returned to our home, nothing had been stolen, but I heard the Taleban did loot the homes of parliamentarians and other famous figures. They believe that such property belongs to the public [beit ul mal]. I haven’t witnessed any violence with my own eyes, but I watched videos on social media that show the Taleban arresting people. The father of one of my friends, who was a candidate in the previous parliamentary election, was arrested by the Taleban. He was released after a few days. One of my teachers, who’s also a poet, was also arrested, but the Taleban released him after news [of his arrest] was spread on social media. [Tajik woman, government worker from Herat city]

Qala-e Naw, provincial capital of Badghis (12 August): The Taleban started fighting the old government in Badghis on 5 August. They released the prisoners from the Badghis jail and fought for a week. We’d fled to Herat during earlier fighting and stayed there for 20 days [before coming home]. But then the Taleban attacked for a second time and we couldn’t leave [the province]. So I sent my family to the village while I stayed at home.

In the districts, the Taleban had sent elders and influential figures to tell the army to surrender or be killed, but in Qala-e Naw, the army was fighting really well, and their morale was high. Then, on the night of 12 August, they were ordered to retreat and turn back to their headquarters. I think there was an order from higher government offices [in Kabul] to hand over the province to the Taleban. The [provincial] officials asked the Taleban to wait until the morning, so they could decide whether to fight or negotiate. The following day they surrendered and handed the provincial capital to the Taleban. 

The first thing the Taleban did after capturing Badghis was to replace the Islamic Republic flags with their own. Then they went to the mosques and drove around the city, in their Rangers and with their weapons, and encouraged people to come out of their homes and resume their activities. They tried to behave in a way that made people more relaxed. They also told people to return home. Many previous commanders, government and military officials and rich people, had left because they were afraid the Taleban would search their houses and ask for their weapons, or they would be asked how they’d made so much money. The Taleban did search some houses and took weapons; and they did bother other people. 

[Some] army forces and commanders were killed by the Taleban after they’d surrendered. For example, the head of Badghis province’s NDS – the video [of the killing] was spread on social media. Such things also happened in the districts. It’s because of the war crimes [they had committed] and the personal enmity of the Taleban [against them]. After the amnesty was announced, Taleban fighters killed 10 to 12 people in Qala-e Naw, for various reasons. [Tajik man, lecturer at a private university from Qala-e Naw district in Badghis]

Qala-e Naw, provincial capital of Badghis (12 August): We’d already spent almost a month in Herat city because of the war in our area. After Eid, we returned, but the fighting started again, so we escaped to the areas around Qala-e Naw to be safe. Most of the time, the fighting was at night, so we left during the night and returned in the morning. After three nights of fighting, the government asked the Taleban for time to consider what to do. They decided to surrender to the Taleban and hand over the province. 

My brother was participating in the war in the districts. He was there when the Taleban took some of the other areas two weeks earlier. He said the army soldiers didn’t have water to drink or bullets to fight with, so they had to surrender. The Taleban [fighters], who were from this province, knew each corner and route in the districts and could fight more easily than the army forces who were from other provinces. But the main reason behind the defeat of the army was the lack of support from the central government. In Muqur district, they lost almost 45 soldiers in a single day after the provincial government ordered the armed forces to retreat and take their weapons with them. They were promised that other forces would come to help them, but none were sent. On the way to Qala-e Naw, the Taleban attacked and killed them all. 

During Taleban attacks in the week before the takeover, many shops were looted. When the Taleban took over our area, the first thing they did was secure the shops. So many people had left without even locking the gates of their homes. When we returned, the day after the takeover, all our homes were safe and nothing had been taken. 

After the takeover, there was no violence against civilians in the city. My father was a government employee and my brother worked for NDS, but we haven’t been disturbed or punished by the Taleban yet. They asked NDS employees to come back to work. My brother has been going to work for the past month. The Taleban even called on the employees who fled to return. They said: We have no issue with you, come and continue your work, like before. [Pashtun woman, midwife from Qala-e Naw city in Badghis]

After the fall of Herat and Kandahar, it seemed only a matter of time until the whole country, except Kabul and a few pockets here and there would be overrun. Indeed, as our interviewees described, the offensive continued on 13 August and 14 August.

Qalat city, capital of Zabul (13 August): The Taleban took over our city without a fight. In the very beginning, we didn’t experience any danger or violence. The only thing we saw was that people were looting the security posts. They even took windows and doors from the security posts. Some looters dragged computers from government offices. Weapons have become very cheap now. One pistol now costs only one thousand afghanis (around 10-12 USD). Some ordinary people even received pistols and other weapons for free. [Pashtun man, principal of a private school from Qalat city in Zabul]

Sayed Karam district in Paktia (13 August): Our district fell to the Taleban twice. Once [in late June] before Eid ul-Adha and again when the Taleban captured the whole province. The first time the district fell, the Taleban burned and looted the district administration’s office. Then the government retook the area, but the frontline remained. There was always fighting. The Taleban attacked so many times and the government forces resisted a lot. They really turned Sayed Karam into a battlefield. 

When the frontline reached the bazaar, the shopkeepers closed their shops and took their goods home. The bazaar was closed for a month. No one went outside except military people. When there was heavy fighting, many families left their homes and went to Gardez. The telecommunications were cut and no one could contact their relatives and friends. The Taleban used people’s homes as bases to attack government forces. So many houses were burned because of government artillery fire. The government was trying to keep this line of defence strong, so the Taleban wouldn’t come too close to Gardez. Soon after Sayed Karam finally fell after fierce fighting, Gardez fell. Nobody cared about the people. The Taleban didn’t care whether people would be killed or wounded or whether their homes would be destroyed. They only thought about bringing all the areas under their control. And the government harmed the people even more with their artillery fire. [Pashtun man, university graduate/shopkeeper from Sayed Karam in Paktia]

Feroz Koh, capital of Ghor (13 August): When the Taleban took the provincial capital, all the districts had already fallen. We’d been asking for air support, but instead, we received an order by the national security adviser [Hamdullah Mohib] to tell all district army commanders to make a tactical retreat. 

For instance, when we knew Shahrak district would be attacked, we sent a written request to the office of the first vice-president. They said they would send the air force, but they lied. They turned off their phones. We waited until 1 in the morning. That night, the Taleban killed 18 soldiers and wounded seven. All the civilian fighters surrendered. The same happened in other districts. For example, the forces in Tulak district fought for one week. The governor of Ghor called for air support on social media. In the end, 11 soldiers from one family were killed here; they were all cousins and relatives. Many others were wounded. [Shahrak and Tulak fell in early June.]

We saved some soldiers by evacuating them to the provincial capital, but we lost many others. I don’t know the exact number, but I think more than 50. They didn’t want to surrender and fought until the Taleban killed them. The forces that did surrender were later paid 500 to 1,000 afghanis by the Taleban and allowed to go home. Some people escaped and were later arrested. They were in prison until the Taleban announced their amnesty, for example, the district governors of Tulak and Shahrak. 

The Taleban took Taiwara, Saghar and Lal wa Sarjangal districts through negotiation. In Chaharsada district, the forces fought for a week but didn’t have enough weapons and finally, they also negotiated with the Taleban. 

The Taleban finally captured the provincial capital through negotiation. On Thursday afternoon [12 August], the governor, army commander, chief of NDS and other officials met the Taleban outside the capital and decided to surrender the city. That evening, I received a call that Ghor had been given to the Taleban in a deal. I couldn’t believe it and immediately went to the administration office. The other officials told me it was true. I tried to contact the office of the president, but nobody answered. I talked to the deputy head of NDS, who told me there was no problem. He said that for now, we should retreat and then later start again. The next day, the Taleban entered the city; we gave them everything and went home. I was shocked. 

Our men were killed because of [decisions in Kabul and among the security officials of the province]. When [earlier in the year] we’d been given five minutes to talk to the national security adviser, he had told us not to worry. He said they’d given eight million afghanis (around 100,000 USD) to each member of parliament to gather people to fight the Taleban. But when the MPs came, they brought only themselves. They had gathered maybe 50 to 100 people, just through money. That’s why it didn’t work. 

The commander of Saghar district was fired by the army commander one month before the takeover. The Taleban had not been able to take Saghar while he was there and he was fired without reason. The day he arrived in the provincial capital, two districts had already fallen. The security forces didn’t want to surrender the province, but the higher-ups had already decided. Our forces had been ready to fight till the end. They had the capacity and good morale. We had weapons and ammunition to last us a whole year, but we couldn’t send them to the districts because Taleban blocked all the roads. We needed the 207 Zafar army corps to send us a helicopter, but they didn’t send one. [Tajik man, former local government official from Feroz Koh in Ghor]

Feroz Koh, capital of Ghor (13 August): In Ghor, there had been widespread attacks by the Taleban, some of whom were from neighbouring provinces, like Badghis, Farah and Helmand. After all the districts fell to the Taleban, they stepped up their attacks on Feroz Koh, but in the last days, there wasn’t as much fighting as before, just some small arms fire and some shooting in the air. Then on 12 August, the local authorities and security forces left Feroz Koh and retreated to a military base and the Taleban took control of all government buildings. After that, the city fell to the Taleban through a deal. Not a single shot was fired. The Taleban entered the city very calmly. 

Most provinces fell to the Taleban through a deal. Government officials coordinated with tribal elders, who were mediating between the government and the Taleban. Or rather, the tribal elders were instructed by the Taleban to convince the government officials to hand over the districts and provinces. 

On the day the Taleban entered the city, many people left for the districts and surrounding areas. For almost three days, the Feroz Koh bazaar was closed. People were afraid. The situation was very unclear and people were panicking because no one could tell who was a Taleb and who was a thief. On the day the province fell, people from the districts came into the city because of a flood or maybe because they thought they could loot. Everyone you encountered might be a problem. Fortunately, people’s houses and shops were left alone and ordinary people weren’t harmed, but all the government offices in Ghor were, unfortunately, looted. Both the Taleban and the public took part in it. Also, when they learned of the deal, some government officials also took some things themselves. [Tajik man, civil society activist from Feroz Koh town in Ghor]

Gardez, provincial capital of Paktia (14 August): After several districts had fallen, fighting broke out near the city. I was working in the education department. There was a rumour that the Taleban would capture Gardez, so the head of our department decided to send all employees home. Everyone was trying to leave the area, especially those whose homes were close to government offices. I wanted to go to my father’s home in the district, but I couldn’t. So I stayed in my home. Everyone was afraid of what would happen. There was heavy fighting around the city, but no fighting inside. Only close to the army corps could the sound of gunfire be heard. 

When the Taleban entered Gardez city, they seized the prison and released all the prisoners. The governor and other government officials had retreated to the base of the 203 Thunder Corps and left the provincial governor’s office and police headquarters to the Taleban without a fight. Only the NDS didn’t surrender and wanted to fight, but the elders went to the NDS several times and asked them to surrender. So with the mediation of the elders, the NDS also gave up. That night, the Taleban captured the entire province. On the day the city fell, the bazaar was closed. People were frightened. My house is close to the Bala Hesar [historic fort] of Gardez. The Taleban captured Bala Hesar on 14 August, lowered the national flag, and raised their own. The people were very upset when the Taleban came.

The city was silent; no one was going anywhere. As far as I heard, 40 people were killed from both sides that day and their dead bodies were brought to the central hospital in Gardez. The Taleban entered the city with government Ranger tanks. The market was closed and only the Taleban were patrolling. On the following day, the bazaar was half open and by that time, people had flocked to the city to see the Taleban. The Taleban were patrolling the city a lot. No woman was going around in the city during the first week after the Taleban arrived. After that, the situation became more normal, the markets were all open and women could move through the city freely. Some used to go with a mahram [close male relative] anyway because it is the culture of this province. Women still go shopping in the market, but much less than before the Taleban’s arrival. [Pashtun woman, teacher from Gardez, provincial capital of Paktia]

Nili, capital of Daikundi (14 August): The Taleban took our area without a fight. Businessmen, tribal elders and other influential people from Nili played an important role in the peaceful takeover. They knew the army didn’t have enough weapons to fight and the people weren’t armed enough to withstand an attack. Those who had businesses worried about losing everything. So they asked the provincial officials to hand the city over peacefully, saying: “The central government will not help you if you fight.” We had all seen the other provinces fall one by one. So a day before the Taleban’s arrival, all government employees left work; they decided to escape instead of causing a bloodshed. Then when the Taleban came, the tribal elders went to meet them. 

People were so worried; they thought the Taleban would take their daughters. So they sent them away. For example, my relatives sent three young girls with me to the district when I left the city.

Many people’s houses were looted during the takeover by unknown people. Government property such as laptops, chairs, rugs and sofas were stolen. After the takeover, two people were killed and a few others were wounded and the Taleban jailed those who had connections with the previous government. Then, 14 people were killed in Khedir district and the Taleban forced people to leave their homes in Pato, Kijran, Gezab and Khedir districts. The Taleban even burned people’s homes. There was violence in Daikundi; it’s still going on. [Hazara woman, former government employee from Nili in Daikondi]

Shahristan district in Daikundi (14 August): The takeover in Shahristan was without any war or violence. The Shahristan army commander was present and the old government simply handed over their weapons when the Taleban arrived. The Taleban gave all previous government employees a protection letter, so they could go safely to their homes. They didn’t harm anyone. [Hazara man, landowner from Shahristan district in Daikundi]

Asadabad, provincial capital of Kunar (14 August): The two districts that fell first [in late June], Nari and Ghaziabad districts, had been surrounded by Taleban forces for over a month – all supply routes were blocked. After a few days of severe fighting, with attacks from all sides, these two districts surrendered to the Taleban. All the security forces – the border police, the NDS and ALP, the Afghan National Army [ANA] – surrendered, a total of 3,850 armed men. 

On 14 August, at 10 am, they radioed the provincial governor’s office to say that three more districts, Asmar, Shegal and Dangam, had surrendered after the local government [officials] had negotiated with the Taleban. The governor and his deputy for administration left for Jalalabad in a convoy of armoured cars, taking with them the money meant for development projects and the salaries of the teachers, police and government employees. That money has now disappeared, but the Taleban did bring back the 22 armoured cars. After the governor and the military forces left, the province fell to the Taleban – at noon that day. 

The situation is calm [there is no fighting] and shops are open now – although I can´t go out myself because I was a high-ranking government official. There’s still a lot of disorder and there are a lot of uncontrolled armed men, so I don’t go anywhere. Every day, high-ranking government officers and NDS staff are mysteriously killed. [Pashtun woman, former government official from Asadabad city in Kunar]

Mazar-e Sharif, provincial capital of Balkh (14 August): Before the takeover of Mazar-e Sharif, a lot of people came from neighbouring provinces to seek shelter here. The political leaders assured the people they wouldn’t let the Taleban capture Mazar. So when the takeover happened, everyone was shocked and many people escaped to Kabul. We thought that because of the focus of the armed forces and the presence of the political leaders [in the capital], they would never allow Kabul to fall. Now Afghanistan has shattered into pieces and nobody will be able to fix it and make it like it was before the takeover. Even one week after the fall of Kabul, we still had hoped the previous government would fight back and push the Taleban out of the cities, but when we saw the news of the evacuations, we knew there was no hope. Slowly, the people who had fled to Kabul returned to Mazar. [Hazara woman, psychologist from Mazar-e Sharif city]

Khairkot district in Paktika (14 August): Before the takeover of the district centre, people were afraid there would be fighting, so many left to stay with relatives. We didn’t go, but we hosted three families. In the end, the Taleban took our area without any fighting. The army and the officials just surrendered and handed over their vehicles, rangers and weapons. The Taleban gave each of them 5,000 afghanis so they could return home. We didn’t hear a single shot fired. 

I don’t exactly know why the former security forces and officials didn’t fight. Maybe they were ordered not to from Kabul. I didn’t even realise our area was captured. My sons told me when they came home from their shops. They said the district governor had left and some elders waited in the office until the Taleban came and took control. I didn’t go, but my sons were there when it happened. 

Many people in the districts celebrated the takeover. They cooked 40 bags of rice and slaughtered two cows. I also slaughtered three sheep because I’m happy there’ll be no more war and corruption in my area. I have six sons, none of them work with the Taleban, but I’m still happy about this takeover. [Pashtun man, former jihadi commander from Khairkot district in Paktika]

Maimana, provincial capital of Faryab (14 August): There was no war in Maimana. The army forces didn’t fight. Instead, they escaped. Even though there was no fighting, the Taleban kept shooting during the first night of the takeover. And they took everything from the government offices…. I don’t think there were negotiations [a negotiated handover] because after the Taleban captured Maimana, they immediately started searching and confiscating the houses of government officials and people that were on their blacklist. I don’t know whose homes were searched, but I know they had all left before the takeover. [Uzbek woman, former pharmacist from Pashtun Kot/Maimana in Faryab]

The next day, Sunday 15 August, started with the surrender of Jalalabad. 

Jalalabad, provincial capital of Nangrahar (15 August): The Taleban captured Jalalabad so easily. In the morning, when we woke up, we heard that they were in the city’s streets, shaking hands with the people. We heard the people were welcoming them. They came to our city so easily, as if they had been there all along. 

At first, we were so afraid to go anywhere and even cancelled our plans to visit my father’s grave. We bought chadaris [burqas] for ourselves. We were afraid they would beat us girls if we went out, so in the first days, we didn’t go out at all, not even with a [related] man. Men were also fearful because they were clean-shaven or worked for the government. My sister’s husband was a government employee. When the Taleban captured the district administration office, he came home immediately. 

Slowly, the situation became normal for us and some of my family members even went and took pictures with them [the Taleban]. In the first few weeks, they were everywhere in the city. They even put a checkpoint in front of my house. These days, when we go to my father’s grave, we don’t even see them in our area. 

We had been afraid there would be fighting between the government and the Taleban, but fortunately, that didn’t happen. On that night when the Taleban were firing [probably on 30 August, after the Americans left for good], we were terrified because we thought the war had started [again]. 

My relatives are not happy with the Taleban takeover because they lost their jobs and now girls’ schools are closed. But people, especially women, who were always at home and who had no outside activity, say they have no issue with the Taleban and that all we need is security. Also, in our area, there are many family conflicts. The Taleban come and solve these issues. [Arab woman, professional NGO staff from Jalalabad city in Nangrahar]

In the meantime, the Taleban had reached Kabul’s outskirts. Rumours that their fighters were entering the city churned and were refuted, until by the evening, after the afternoon’s sudden departure of the president Ghani and his team, Kabul was indeed in Taleban hands (see AAN reporting here). 

Kabul (15 August): Kabul fell to the Taleban on Sunday 15 August. When I heard the Taleban had reached the gates of Kabul, I was very frightened. I quickly closed our dental clinic and left. That one and a half hours of work I did that day was the last time I worked with my colleagues. The situation in the city was chaotic. People were worried and panicked. Taxi fares doubled, from 20 to 40 afghanis. The roads were so busy and there were a lot of Rangers and Land Cruisers. It was difficult to make calls and the shops were closed. I finally got home at four in the afternoon. There was shooting, which made us very worried. It was a very bad day. 

That evening, the Taleban entered the city. Our house is near the main road and I watched them from the window. I was very scared. I didn’t leave the house for two weeks, but I posted on Facebook and saw on television that the situation was very bad. People in Kabul rushed to withdraw their money, and there were queues outside every bank. Large stores were closed. Roads were empty except for Taleban convoys. 

On the second day, people slowly left their homes, and the shops opened. My brother went shopping. I was very worried, but over time I got used to the Taleban and eventually, I also left the house to go shopping in the Taimani bazaar, but with a lot of fear. I saw very few people, particularly women, and the women who were there covered up much more. Over time, the situation returned to normal and people got used to the Taleban when they saw they were not harassing them. But the fall of Kabul, in just a few hours, raises big questions about how this happened and why the 300,000-strong Afghan army didn’t resist. We never thought the Taleban would come to power so easily. We’re glad there was no fighting and that the general public wasn’t harmed. People were afraid of war and looting; fortunately, that didn’t happen. But I still don’t understand how the Taleban entered the city, with all the government forces here. [Sayed woman, dentist from Kabul city]

With Kabul’s (impending) fall, the remaining provinces and districts – with the notable exception of Panjshir – surrendered too. In most cases, this was a mere formality.

Jaghori district in Ghazni (15 August): The Taleban captured Jaghori on 15 August,  easily and without any conflict. Five or six people, who were elders, influential people and decision-makers, went to invite them to our district headquarters. When the Taleban arrived in the main town, they announced they wouldn’t harm anyone and that we were all brothers. There was no violence. They just raised their flags over government buildings. The officials and generals from the old government had already escaped.  

In general, the Taleban have not bothered the people, although they did search some houses looking for government officials and weapons. The ulema council somehow convinced them that people would start resisting if they continued searching homes, so they stopped. Fortunately, Jaghori’s people are not in the ranks of the Taleban fighters, although some people are cooperating with them, for example, by spying. They are putting other people in danger by exposing them to the Taleban. [Hazara man, professional NGO staff from Jaghori in Ghazni]

Yakawlang district in Bamyan (15 August): Before the Taleban captured Bamyan, they sent their representatives to meet government officials in the main town. Neither the government nor the army intended to fight, nor did the people want them to. In Yakawlang district, the officials of the former government just left the district office two hours before the Taleban’s arrival. [Sayed man, medical doctor from Yakawlang district in Bamyan]

Estalef district in Kabul province (15 August): Before the Taleban came to our area [on 15 August], they sent a message to the district administration through the elders, saying: We’re coming and there should be no resistance. The Taleban who captured the district were from Estalef itself, some were tribal elders. Most of them were from an area called Shuraba. The market was half-open that day, but most shops stayed closed because people were still afraid that fighting might break out. 

After two or three days, people started going out again, little by little, and the market reopened. The Taleban treated the people well and did not disturb anyone. They guarded the government facilities, took the former military’s weapons and equipment, and allowed them to go home. Some of them moved to Kabul. Security is good now. But it was good before, too. [Tajik man, teacher from Estalef in Kabul province]

III. The assault on and capture of Panjshir

Panjshir was the one exception to the Taleban’s rapid capture of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals. There, the National Resistance Front [NRF], hastily established by former First Vice President Amrullah Saleh and the son of Ahmad Shah Massud, Ahmad Massud, said it would resist the Taleban after negotiations broke down. (The NRF had several demands, including a government of national unity, whereas the Taleban was largely seeking to achieve a negotiated surrender). The Taleban then mobilised troops from all over the country and in an all-out assault, rapidly managed to enter the province (see also the section on Panjshir in this AAN report). The Taleban closed the roads and cut off communication, so it was difficult to know what was happening. For that reason, we decided to speak to several people from Panjshir at considerable length. [2]The three interviews in Panjshir took place in October 2021.

Map by Roger Helms for AAN.

Bazarak district in Panjshir: Before the Taleban came, the National Resistance Front (NRF) had assured the people they were safe, so the day the Taleban entered Panjshir, no one knew what to do or where to go. We escaped into the mountains and went to a small village, so we weren’t there when they captured our area [in Bazarak district], but I heard they went to people’s houses – I don’t know for what purpose. Then the war between the Taleban and the NRF started. During the fight, they killed some boys from my area who were members of the NRF. Some Taleban also were killed. After they entered Panjshir, the Taleban also killed some civilians, for example, some young men they saw near the road. 

We came back from the mountain on 8 September. We returned to our village and didn’t see the Taleban anywhere, but in the afternoon, there was shooting and a large number of Taleban fighters rushed into the area. All the people left and went to Kabul. We also left. It was an emergency; we thought we wouldn’t be able to live in Panjshir anymore. We heard that the Taleban would kill everyone, including women and children. There was a long line of traffic into Kabul. We arrived the next day at 8 in the evening.

Since then, we came back to Panjshir. The situation has changed for the worse [compared to before the takeover]. In other parts of Afghanistan, at least boys’ schools are open, but in Panjshir, no schools are active. The reason is that most of Panjshir’s people haven’t returned yet and those who have, don’t send their children to school because of the current situation. It’s as if we’re living under martial law. People, especially women, can’t move freely like they used to. There are no Taleban in my area, but they’re living in houses they have grabbed in nearby villages, around five to ten minutes from here. [Tajik woman, school principal from Bazarak district in Panjshir]

Dara district in Panjshir: The National Resistance Front (NRF) came into existence after the occupation of Kabul by the Taleban on 15 August. Led by Ahmad Massud, the NRF made demands regarding the country’s administration and started negotiations with the Taleban. When they didn’t reach a conclusion, the Taleban sent their troops into the area. There was heavy fighting in the Panjshir valley for a week. Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

The Taleban took full control of Panjshir province [or its provincial capital] on Monday 6 September. Two days later, they entered Dara district and took control of it. Those who had resisted surrendered the district to the Taleban without a fight. Others went into the mountains. There were no clashes in Dara. Mullahs in the district had already talked to a number of elders, together with the Taleban before the fighting. The only battle was, earlier, on the Panjshir border in Dalan Sang area, before the Taleban entered.

The Taleban could enter Panjshir so easily because they were helped by others who were already inside Panjshir. The Taleban had recently recruited people who had gone to Pakistan to study and these Panjshiri Taleban showed them all the ways to enter the province. So they attacked Paryan district from the side of the Andarab mountains. The fall of Panjshir was due to the Panjshiri Taleban and because of the internal problems and controversies within the Resistance Front. There were the reasons Panjshir fell. 

But even though the Panjshiri Taleban were with them, unfortunately, the Taleban used violence in some districts on the first day they entered the province. They beat and even killed some of the people they encountered. Many young men were killed – recently, several mass graves were found. Some of the men they killed were with the resistance, but others were civilians who were shot in their houses. The Taleban also killed young men because they wore camouflage pants; they arrested others and beat them and told them to hand over their weapons or show the Taleban which people had guns. The Taleban really caused fear and panic in those first days. 

After the capture of Panjshir, people in the centre of the province were told to leave their homes. Many of them went to Kabul and other places. At the same time, the other people in Panjshir, whether they were military or civilian, also evacuated themselves and decided to leave. Everyone was trying to get out. Every day, dozens of trucks transported people to Kabul. Then the Taleban started preventing families from going to Kabul. They were turning them back from the Doab area of Dara district, telling them to stay in their homes. Only young men were allowed to cross. The Taleban told families trying to leave that they would not bother them and that they were from among them. Some families were stopped and turned back by the Taleban several times. Finally, after mediation by tribal elders, families were also allowed to leave for Kabul

The problem was that the Taleban thought the people were sending their families away so that they could prepare for war and that’s why they were preventing them from leaving. Empty trucks travelled from Kabul, Parwan and Kapisa to Panjshir to transport people out. Carfares had increased from 300 to 1,000 afghanis. Not everyone could afford [the high prices].

Security in the district is good now. There is no war, but sometimes we can hear shooting in the valleys and mountains. People can travel, but very few do because there is [almost] no one left in Panjshir. People are rarely seen. Although the Taleban aren’t saying anything to anyone at the moment, people are still afraid. The Taleban mistreat Panjshiris as if they are their personal enemies. The ones from the region treat people well, but some [Talebs] from other provinces treat people badly. Young people are tortured under various pretexts and weapons are demanded of them.

Even though the people of Dara district didn’t resist the Taleban, and an agreement was reached, young people are still being arrested and tortured. Compared to the rest of Panjshir, Dara district is the quietest district. But in general, the situation hasn’t returned to normal. The situation in the province is a military one. The Taleban are afraid of the people and the people who are still here are afraid of the Taleban. [Tajik man, former government employee from Dara district in Panjshir]

Khinj district (Hessa-ye Awal area) in Panjshir: The Resistance Front under Ahmad Massud made some demands of the Taleban regarding how the country should be managed. When the negotiations broke down, the Taleban sent troops to the area. They attacked from Takhar, Badakhshan, Andarab [district of Baghlan] and Parwan’s Jabal ul-Saraj district. They couldn’t enter through the gate of Panjshir province [the end of the Panjshir Valley, just to the north of Jabal ul-Saraj town] because there was a lot of resistance there, so they attacked Paryan district from Andarab. They carried out offensive attacks from both sides of Kotal-e Khawak [Khawak Pass] in Paryan district and Chilanak area in Shatal district and entered Khawak village. They took control of the area from Khawak Bridge to Bam Wardar of Paryan district and captured the district from there. The Taleban governor, who was in charge of the war, was from Paryan district, so there was less resistance there because the people didn’t want to fight against him. 

Most of the fighting took place in Paryan, Anaba and Shatal districts. Both parties claimed they inflicted heavy casualties on the other. During the fighting, the Taleban cut off the power lines to Panjshir. They set fire to a mobile phone tower near the Darband front and cut off all the phone networks. They imposed economic sanctions and closed all roads to civilians. The people were in a terrible situation and forced to retreat or surrender. 

There was heavy fighting for a week and both sides suffered heavy casualties. The Taleban took full control of Panjshir province on Monday 6 September. 

The bazaar in Hessa-ye Awal was closed during the Taleban offensive. Some grocery shops were open, but you couldn’t find anything because the Taleban had blocked the roads and didn’t let anything come into Panjshir. People faced a lot of economic hardship. For instance, I had no cooking oil at home, so I walked five kilometres to find some, but couldn’t find any. The shops were either closed or had nothing to sell.

There was no fighting in Hessa-ye Awal itself. The Taleban captured it without a fight because the resistance forces retreated. The resistance and the Taleban suffered heavy casualties only in one part of the district, called Peshghor and Omarz. When the Taleban heard of these losses, they burned the higher education department of Panjshir to cause panic and the people wouldn’t resist anymore. They also burned down some homes and fired artillery from Paryan district all over the place, so that people suffered casualties. Most government buildings weren’t damaged in Panjshir, but the artillery fire damaged people’s homes in some districts, including in Hessa-ye Awal. 

When the Taleban first entered Panjshir, their slogan was that there was a general amnesty for all and that they would leave people alone. But in practice, people were harassed a lot. Young people were killed under the pretext of being with the resistance or of wearing military uniforms. There was a lot of panic. Ordinary people were evicted from their homes and beaten, or even killed. Most of those who were with the government went up into the mountains or left for other provinces.

After the Taleban imposed an economic blockade on Panjshir and escalated the war, problems started among the jihadi commanders and leaders in Panjshir. Some wanted to support the Taleban, to prevent further fighting and casualties. Others wanted to resist. Finally, these problems and differences caused the full surrender of Panjshir to the Taleban. The resistance forces went up into the mountains to prevent ordinary people from being harmed. Some resistance forces surrendered to the Taleban and handed over their arms and equipment. They no longer wanted to resist because they didn’t want the people who had stayed behind to be killed. 

So the resistance forces retreated from the provincial capital and districts, and when the Taleban entered, nobody was left. Also, some people inside Panjshir had already made deals and agreements with the Taleban. They supported them and invited others to join; the Taleban succeeded in Panjshir with their support. 

When the Taleban entered Panjshir, they announced a three-day ceasefire and told the people that they could leave if they wanted to. Most people tried to leave the province. No one was forced to leave; instead, soon the Taleban prevented people from leaving the province. There was panic because [it seemed] the Taleban were arresting or killing anyone they saw. In Hessa-ye Awal, people were so scared that no one left their homes for a week. The Taleban also feared the people. They thought they might have weapons and kill them, so they arrested anyone they saw for their own protection. 

At the moment, the situation is good, but not at the level it should be. The local Taleban made the situation a little better, but some Taleban from other provinces are arresting people, especially young men. The bazaars in the various districts are open as usual again and people can travel now, but they only do so when necessary. Especially the young men are afraid. There are a lot of Taleban checkpoints inside Panjshir. They ask drivers and people where they’re going or where they came from. They don’t harm anyone unless they suspect them or have some report about them. [Tajik man, a former NDS employee from Khinj (Hessa-ye Awal) in Panjshir]

Edited by Roxanna Shapour


1 For the research project “Living under the New Taleban Government” AAN conducted 42 qualitative, semi-structured interviews in 26 provinces. The first five interviews took place between 9 and 12 August, before the Taleban took Kabul, while the remaining 37 interviews were conducted between 20 September and 4 November. The majority of the interviews were done by phone, with some interviews carried out in person. The information in this report is based on replies to one of the opening question in the questionnaire: When and how did the Taleban take over your area?
2 The three interviews in Panjshir took place in October 2021.


Taleban Taleban takeover


Martine van Bijlert

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