The Taliban took power in Afghanistan on Sunday after making a rapid advance across the country, overwhelming government forces and panicking large swathes of the population.
By Monday, thousands of Afghans had fled the capital, Kabul, to the main airport. US forces struggled to secure the airport for their own evacuation flights while blocking many Afghan civilians flooding the tarmac in hopes of escaping.
Much of what we know about the past few days comes from footage posted on social media by Afghan civilians, Taliban insurgents, contractors and journalists.
The Times reviewed and verified the results of these videos to see what this hectic takeover of the land was like on the ground. Here’s what we found
Some resistance followed by retreat
In several cities, Afghan security forces fought with videos showing gunfire to stop the Taliban’s advance.
Much more frequently, however, during the Taliban’s offensive, the scenes of the apparent withdrawal of government troops, which were ill-equipped to secure the country after the American withdrawal, are on strike.
In one district after another, videos showed caravans of government military vehicles heading towards borders and airports.
In one video, an escaping Afghan convoy clogged a bridge on the border with Uzbekistan, a reminder that Soviet soldiers had left the country across the same bridge decades earlier.
Other videos show several Afghan military convoys that fled across the border into eastern Iran.
The Afghan security forces’ swift surrender came despite the US spending more than $ 83 billion on weapons, equipment and training. With the decline of the districts, the military airfields also fell.
At Herat airport, several videos show that the Taliban succeeded in seizing and operating one of the Soviet Mi-17 helicopters belonging to the Afghan Air Force. It is unclear whether the insurgents knew how to fly the helicopters or relied on pilots to switch sides.
Analysis of social media footage confirmed by the Times shows that they have captured at least 24 of the approximately 200 Afghan Air Force aircraft, including US-supplied helicopters and a light fighter, since the Taliban’s offensive began in May.
It is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to operate these aircraft without their own air force. Most of the abandoned helicopters are damaged or mechanically unable to fly. Experts say those that require extensive maintenance and experienced pilots.
Perhaps more beneficial to the Taliban are the hundreds of Humvees and pickups they captured, as well as countless weapons and ammunition stores. Taliban insurgents showed their newly acquired weapons and vehicles in social media videos.
In the days leading up to the fall of the Afghan capital, the Taliban captured many well-known provincial capitals.
In Herat, Taliban insurgents surrounded the entrance to the citadel, the historic heart of the third largest city in Afghanistan, with captured police vehicles.
And in Jalalabad – east of Kabul on an important route to the capital – a Taliban convoy paraded through the city center.
As elsewhere, the arrival of the insurgents in Kabul was apparently without a fight.
Videos showed fighters on trucks and motorcycles swarming through the city, sometimes to cheers and applause.
Aug 16, 2021, 12:55 p.m. ET
They eventually reached the Presidential Palace, which was abandoned by President Ashraf Ghani, who had fled earlier in the day. An Al Jazeera correspondent escorted fighters to the palace for an extensive live broadcast.
Taliban commanders said they are now responsible for the security of the capital and do not want a conflict with the US.
American military transport helicopters spent Sunday crisscrossing the skies of Kabul to bring personnel from the embassy and other US citizens to Hamid Karzai International Airport, which quickly became the de facto base of operations for many Western governments.
Anthony Mejia, an American helicopter maintenance contractor, filmed his own nightly evacuation and posted it on Instagram.
US officials said that all roughly 4,000 embassy employees had reached the airport in Kabul by Monday morning. However, it was unclear what would happen to the thousands of Afghans who had worked for the US government applying for special visas to live in the United States.
At the airport, videos showed Afghans queuing for flights out of the country.
“One US plane flies every 15 minutes and another lands,” said a man who was making a video. “There is chaos while people get on the plane.”
Left behind civilians
But amid these military evacuations, thousands of Afghan civilians flooded Kabul airport on Sunday and Monday to flee the country. Gunshots were heard in several places, but it is not clear who was responsible.
When the Taliban captured the city, commercial flights were delayed or canceled. The few remaining flights faced a flood of passengers, which sparked conflict as people tried to board.
On Sunday night, US forces took control of airport security and commercial flights were canceled as military evacuations continued.
The next morning, videos and photos showed American soldiers denying civilians access to parts of the airport. Meanwhile, crowds of people scrambled over walls and swarmed the tarmac in hopes of catching planes departing.
In an apparent attempt to clear the runway, two Apache helicopters flew at low altitude over hundreds of civilians surrounding a C-17 transport plane – several clinging to its sides.
Some seem to have held out as the plane gained altitude. A video below shows two people falling from the aircraft after it was well above the runway.
Equipped for the future
Many Afghans in Kabul spent the weekend preparing for a life under the control of the Taliban. Some stood in huge lines to withdraw cash from a bank.
Others rushed to buy groceries and supplies.
Taliban members had set up checkpoints around the capital by Monday morning. Much of Kabul was reported to be calm and the Taliban appeared to be in control.
Translations by Zia Ur Rehman.