Afghanistan before the fall - The New York Times

It all happened so fast. Just weeks before Taliban militants triumphantly entered Kabul last month without a fight as the US-backed gov...


It all happened so fast.

Just weeks before Taliban militants triumphantly entered Kabul last month without a fight as the US-backed government collapsed, the capital seemed on a world away from the extremist group’s harsh view of a Islamic society. Over the weeks, however, signs of an impending crisis accumulated, soon etched on the faces of worried Afghans who ultimately decided they had no choice but to flee.

Tyler Hicks, a photographer for the New York Times, has captured the arc of conflict in Afghanistan through at least 30 missions since the US invasion in 2001 that routed the Taliban. In July, he visited the western city of Herat, the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and the capital Kabul just weeks before the cities fell, amid concern over a takeover by the Taliban was escalating. Here is his chronicle of those critical weeks.

A FAƇADE OF NORMALITY

A photo of President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul in July. Mr. Ghani fled the country on August 15, just before the Taliban entered Kabul.

A relaxed street scene in Kabul, in the weeks leading up to the Taliban’s reconquest of the capital.

A cafe on the Qargha Reservoir outside of Kabul in July for the last few weeks before life changed dramatically.

AMERICA, GONE: AFTER BAGRAM

Empty office stations at Bagram Air Base, abandoned by the Americans and Allied forces on July 2. Once the largest air base in Afghanistan, it has been turned into a ghost town.

The giant aerodrome of Bagram.

Bagram was once a home away from home for thousands of American soldiers, with plenty of amenities. It even housed fast food restaurants.

PRE-TALIBAN IMAGES, NOW MISSING

An Afghan national flag flies over Kabul in July. It has since been replaced by the Taliban’s white banner.

A woman and a girl on a street in Kabul in July. Soon, many women would cover themselves or stay indoors after the Taliban toppled the government, fearing the group’s brutal crackdown on women.

Posters of Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, left, and Ahmad Shah Massoud, central figures of the 1990s anti-Taliban resistance known as the Northern Alliance. This summer, the group lost its stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif to the Taliban.

ANXIETY DEEPENED: BOARDING THE BUSES TO LEAVE AFGHANISTAN

Despite expectations that it could be weeks or months before the Taliban reached Kabul, some Afghan families decided in July to flee the country by bus, fearing the borders would soon be closed. Their fears would soon prove to be justified.

As the Taliban seized Afghanistan’s border crossings with Pakistan and other neighboring countries in July, leaving by road became a race against time.

As the Taliban moved closer to Herat, people fled east to Kabul

A government security checkpoint in the western town of Herat, just days before it was seized by the Taliban.

Afghan families in Herat boarded buses for Kabul, believing they would be safer there against the Taliban regime.

A female passenger in a car awaiting security clearance at a Herat checkpoint. The Taliban would soon take over the city, the third largest in Afghanistan.

IN THE NIGHT BUS, EXPECTING A SR RESULT

The 480-mile bus ride from Herat to Kabul was best at night, when temperatures were cooler. Many buses left after 7pm and arrived early the next morning.

Residents of Herat, fearing an imminent Taliban takeover, boarded buses for Kabul just before the western city fell on August 13.

On a night bus from Herat to Kabul.

ANTI-TALIBAN REDOUTE IN THE LAST WEEKS OF RESISTANCE

Militia fighters in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, once considered a stronghold of anti-Taliban resistance, have been ordered to defend the town.

Members of an anti-Taliban militia in Mazar-i-Sharif, a month before the Taliban invaded their defensive positions and took the city.

After the Taliban breakthrough in Mazar-i-Sharif, government security forces and militias fled, including those led by the infamous warlords, Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Noor, ceding control to the Taliban.

NEAR UZBEKISTAN, THE LAST OPEN EARTH EXIT BEFORE THE TAKEOVER

Boulders on the road mark a checkpoint near the border with Uzbekistan, north of Mazar-i-Sharif, manned by poorly equipped Afghan militiamen.

A militia outpost near the Uzbek border, built with explosion-resistant Hesco barriers provided by the US military. Named after the company that developed them, the Hesco Barriers are filled with rocks and dirt and can be seen all over Afghanistan.

Another view of the militia border outpost. Weeks later, the Taliban capture him.

IN WEEKS, A BRIDGE TOO FAR

The Afghan side of the border with Uzbekistan. The Friendship Bridge, used by the retreating Soviet army in 1989, was one of the last government-held land crossings to fall into Taliban hands.

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