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Maps show how quickly Afghanistan fell back into hands of the Taliban

The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan has taken the world by surprise.

Western powers including the UK, US and Germany have all admitted they had not anticipated the militants would have seized control of the country so quickly and with minimum resistance.

They are now racing to evacuate thousands of residents and Afghan citizens from Kabul airport.

The mass exodus led to chaotic scenes as huge crowds of people attempted to cling to the sides of planes as they took off for safety.

Here is a timeline of how events in Afghanistan have escalated over the past 18 months, culminating in the country falling back into the hands of the Taliban after 20 years.

2020

– February 29: US president Donald Trump’s administration agrees a peace deal with the Taliban, pledging to withdraw all of its troops and those of its Nato allies within 14 months if certain conditions are met.

Under the deal, brokered in Doha, the Taliban agreed to withdraw support for terrorist groups and commence talks with the Afghan government.

A prisoner swap of 5,000 Taliban members and 1,000 Afghan security forces is also arranged.

2021

– January 2021: President Joe Biden’s new administration reviews Mr Trump’s deal with the Taliban and pushes the final withdrawal date for US troops back to September 2021.

– April 14: President Biden announces US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan starting on May 1 and ending on September 11, bringing America’s longest war to a close.

It was an extension of the previous withdrawal deadline of May 1 agreed between the United States and the Taliban.

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– May 4: Taliban fighters launch a major offensive on Afghan forces in southern Helmand province. They also attack in at least six other provinces.

– May 11: The Taliban capture Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul as violence intensifies across the country.

– June 7: Senior US government officials say more than 150 Afghan soldiers are killed in 24 hours as fighting worsens. They add that fighting is raging in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces.

– June 22: Taliban fighters launch a series of attacks in the north of the country, far from their traditional strongholds in the south.

The UN envoy for Afghanistan says they have taken more than 50 of 370 districts.

– July 2: American troops quietly pull out of their main military base in Afghanistan – Bagram Air Base, an hour’s drive from Kabul. It effectively ends US involvement in the war.

– July 5: The Taliban say they could present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government as soon as August.

– July 21: Taliban insurgents control about a half of the country’s districts, according to a senior US general, underlining the scale and speed of their advance.

– July 25: The US vows to continue to support Afghan troops ‘in the coming weeks’ with intensified airstrikes to help them counter Taliban attacks.

– July 26: The UN says nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June in escalating violence, the highest number for those months since records started in 2009.

– August 6: Zaranj in the south of the country becomes the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years.

Many more are to follow in the ensuing days, including the prized city of Kunduz in the north.

– August 13: Four more provincial capitals fall in a day, including Kandahar, the country’s second city and spiritual home of the Taliban.

In the west, another key city, Herat, is overrun and veteran commander Mohammad Ismail Khan, one of the leading fighters against the Taliban, is captured.

– August 14: The Taliban take the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and, with little resistance, Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province just 40 miles south of Kabul.

The US sends more troops to help evacuate its civilians from Kabul as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he is consulting with local and international partners on next steps.

– August 15: The Taliban take the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, effectively surrounding Kabul.

Taliban insurgents then enter Kabul as the US evacuate diplomats from its embassy by helicopter in scenes reminiscent of the fall of Saigon.

– August 16:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls a meeting of the Government Cobra emergencies committee as Taliban fighters stand ready to take the Afghan capital of Kabul unopposed.

The House of Commons authorities confirm Parliament will be recalled on Wednesday in response to the crisis.

What is happening in Afghanistan?

The Taliban, a militant group that ran the country in the late 1990s, have again taken control.

The US-led invasion in 2001 ousted the insurgents from power, but they never left.

After they blitzed across the country in recent days, the Western-backed government that has run the country for 20 years collapsed.

Afghans, fearing for the future, are racing to the airport, one of the last routes out of the country.

Why are people fleeing the country?

They’re worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against those who worked with the Americans or the government.

Many also fear the Taliban will reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied on when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Back then, women were barred from attending school or working outside the home. They had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside.

The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

They have sought to present themselves as a more moderate force in recent years and say they won’t exact revenge, but many Afghans are sceptical of those promises.

Why are the Taliban taking over now?

Probably because US troops are set to withdraw by the end of the month.

The States has been trying to get out of Afghanistan, its longest war, for several years now.

As attentions shifted to Iraq, the Taliban began to regroup and in recent years took over much of the Afghan countryside.

Last year, then-President Trump announced a plan to pull out and signed a deal with the Taliban that limited US military action against them.

President Biden then announced that the last troops would leave by the end of August.

As the final deadline drew close, the Taliban began a lightning offensive, overrunning city after city.

What will happen next in Afghanistan?

It’s not clear.

The Taliban say they want to form an ‘inclusive, Islamic government’ with other factions. They are holding negotiations with senior politicians, including leaders in the former government.

They have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will provide a secure environment for the return of 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, which is what they called it the last time they ruled.

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