The Taliban have now seized control of Afghanistan two weeks before the United States was due to completely withdraw its troops after a 20-year military presence in the war-torn country.
Chaotic scenes erupted after Taliban insurgents retook Kabul on Sunday with thousands of panicked Afghans rushing to flee the country, including some who were desperate enough to cling to US military aircrafts as the planes taxied down the runway.
US officials have already claimed they miscalculated the speed at which the Taliban were able to storm across the country and capture all major cities in just a matter of days.
Afghan security forces, who were trained and equipped by the US over the last two decades, put up little fight against the militants.
It has prompted questions as to how insurgents were able to regain control of the country so quickly after two decades and what exactly the Taliban want.
Who is the Taliban and what do they believe?
The Taliban are a hardline Islamic militant group that ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
It is currently led by Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada.
When the Taliban first formed in 1994, the insurgent group was made up of “mujahideen” — Afghan resistance fighters who fought the Soviets when they invaded in the late 1980s.
The Taliban gained control of the government in 1996 when they captured Kabul.
They quickly imposed Sharia — or Islamic law — which meant corporal punishment and public executions were implemented, and women were banned from working outside the home and girls could not attend school.
Women also had to cover their faces in public and had to be accompanied by a male relative whenever they left their homes.
The Taliban were accused of brutally enforcing the Islamic law by cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers.
The insurgents were ousted from power when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks that were orchestrated by al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.
The US wanted to prevent al Qaeda from using Afghanistan as a base for its terrorism.
The Taliban, however, never left Afghanistan and have been fighting the Western government ever since.
How did the Taliban regain strength and why are they taking over now?
As the United States shifted their focus to Iraq, the Taliban started to regroup and slowly, over the last two decades, began taking over parts of the Afghan countryside.
Following years of negotiations, the Taliban and Trump administration signed a peace deal last year.
Under the deal, Trump agreed to start withdrawing troops and release about 5,000 Taliban prisoners. In exchange, the Taliban vowed to prevent groups from using Afghanistan to threaten the US.
When President Joe Biden was elected, he announced that the last troops would leave by the end of August.
As that deadline inched closer, the Taliban started rapidly overtaking a number of major cities.
After the US spent billions of dollars training and equipping Afghan security forces, questions are now mounting as to why they put up such a little fight against the Taliban.
The Western-backed government was rife with corruption.
Entire units with the Afghan security forces surrendered after brief battles, Kabul and other nearby provinces fell without a fight.
President Ashraf Ghani hunkered down and made few public statements as the Taliban swept across the country in the last week.
He fled on Sunday as the Taliban reached Kabul but it is not clear where he went.
What do they want and what will happen next?
The Taliban wants to take back what they lost in the 2000s when the US invaded.
They have already said they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it last time they ruled.
They want to restore Islamic law in society but it is unclear if life will go back to what it once was under prior Taliban rule.
The Taliban have claimed they are no longer opposed to women attending school but have said it will end mixed-gender education, however, reports indicate girls are already being forced into sex slavery as young as 12.
Many women fear Taliban rule will mean a severe rollback of the rights they’ve been fighting for 20 years. Reports have already emerged of women being forced out of their jobs and ordered to return to their homes.
Despite the Taliban saying they want to provide a secure environment, many Afghans fear their rule will be violent and oppressive.
The Taliban say they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other factions and have been holding negotiations with senior politicians.
How is the Taliban funded and who runs it?
The group mostly gets its money through opium and drugs trades. Insurgents are also often involved in kidnapping plots for ransom.
In the areas where the Taliban already had control, they often raised money by taxing farms and other businesses.
They also received funding from supporters.
Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada was appointed the Taliban’s supreme leader in 2016 when a drone strike killed his predecessor.
He is widely believed to be the insurgent group’s spiritual leader rather than a military commander.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is also believed to be a key player.
He is the head of the political office that was part of the team negotiating the withdrawal of US troops.