The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the US was due to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.
The insurgents stormed the country and conquered all major cities in a matter of days as the Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.
Here’s a look at what happened and what’s next:
WHAT HAPPENS IN AFGHANISTAN?
The Taliban, a militant group that ruled the country in the late 1990s, have regained control.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the insurgents from power, but they never left. After flashing across the country in the past few days, the western-backed government that has ruled the country for 20 years collapsed. Afraid for the future, Afghans rush to the airport, one of the last ways out of the country.
WHY DO PEOPLE FLE FROM THE COUNTRY?
They fear the country may sink into chaos or the Taliban may launch vengeance attacks on those who have worked with the Americans or the government.
Many also fear that the Taliban will re-impose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law they relied on in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. At the time, women were not allowed to go to school or work outside the home. They were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative when they went outside. The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.
The Taliban have tried in recent years to present themselves as a more moderate force and not take revenge, but many Afghans are skeptical of these promises.
WHY ARE THE TALIBAN TAKING OVER NOW?
Probably because US troops are due to withdraw by the end of the month.
The US has been trying to get out of Afghanistan, its longest war, for several years.
American forces ousted the Taliban within months as they marched in to eradicate al-Qaeda, who launched the attacks of the 11th. But holding territories and rebuilding a nation ravaged by repeated wars proved to be more difficult.
When the US focus shifted to Iraq, the Taliban began to regroup and in recent years have taken over much of the Afghan landscape.
Last year, then-President Donald Trump announced a withdrawal plan and signed an agreement with the Taliban that restricted US military action against them. President Joe Biden then announced that the last troops would leave by the end of August.
As the final deadline drew near, the Taliban launched a lightning offensive and overran town after town.
WHY ARE THE AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES COMPOSED?
The short answer? Corruption.
The US and its NATO allies have spent billions of dollars training and equipping Afghan security forces over two decades. But the West-backed government was full of corruption. Commanders exaggerated the number of soldiers to siphon off resources, and troops in the field often lacked ammunition, supplies, or even food.
Their morale continued to erode when it became clear that the US was on its way out. As the Taliban advanced rapidly in recent days, entire units surrendered after brief fighting, and Kabul and some nearby provinces fell without a fight.
WHAT CLOSED WITH THE PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN?
President Ashraf Ghani crouched and made few public statements as the Taliban swept the country. On Sunday when they reached the capital, he left Afghanistan, saying he had decided to leave the capital to avoid further bloodshed. It is not clear where he went.
WHY DO PEOPLE COMPARE AFGHANISTAN TO THE FALL OF SAIGON?
The fall of Saigon by North Vietnamese troops in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. It became a lasting symbol of defeat after thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese allies were flown out of the city in helicopters. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected any comparisons with Afghanistan and said: “This is obviously not Saigon.”
WHAT WILL NEXT IN AFGHANISTAN?
It is unclear.
The Taliban want to form an “inclusive Islamic government” with other factions. You are negotiating with high-ranking politicians, including leaders of the former government.
They have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will create a safe environment for returning to normal life after decades of war.
But many Afghans distrust the Taliban and fear that their rule will be violent and oppressive. One sign that worries people is that they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as they called it when they last reigned.
WHAT DOES THE TALIBAN TAKEOVER MEAN FOR WOMEN?
Many fear that this could mean a serious restriction of rights.
Afghan women have made great strides since the Taliban was overthrown. Many are afraid that they will stay home again. The Taliban have stated that they no longer refuse to go to school for women, but have not established a clear policy on women’s rights. Afghanistan remains a largely conservative country, especially outside of the big cities, and the status of women often varies, even under Taliban rule.
WILL THE TALIBAN BECOME AL-QAIDA PORT AGAIN?
Anyone can guess, but American military officials are concerned.
In the peace agreement signed with the United States last year, the Taliban pledged to fight terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for attacks again. But the US has little leverage to enforce that.
Technological advances over the past 20 years have enabled the United States to target suspected militants in countries such as Yemen and Somalia, where it has no permanent troop presence. The Taliban paid a heavy price for their role in the 9/11 attacks and are likely to hope to avoid recurrence as they seek to consolidate their rule.
But earlier this year, Pentagon top leaders said that an extremist group like al-Qaeda could potentially regenerate in Afghanistan, and officials are now warning that such groups could grow much faster than expected.
Afghanistan is also home to an affiliated Islamic state group that has carried out a wave of horrific attacks against its Shiite minority in recent years. The Taliban have condemned such attacks and the two groups have fought over territory, but it remains to be seen whether a Taliban government will be willing or able to suppress ISIS.