(Reuters) – It took just a few days for the Taliban to sweep across Afghanistan and seize territory they did not already control, sometimes taking major provincial capitals with barely a shot in anger.
While much has been made of the Afghan army’s military collapse, interviews with Taliban leaders, Afghan politicians, diplomats and other observers suggest the Islamist militant movement laid the groundwork for its victory long before the events of the last week or so.
Prepared for a harder struggle to re-take control of a country they ran from 1996-2001, for months the insurgents said they cultivated relationships with low-level political and military officials as well as tribal elders.
That, combined with the pre-announced withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan some 20 years after America’s longest war began, shattered confidence in the Western-backed administration in Kabul and encouraged people to defect.
“The Taliban didn’t want to fight battles,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia security analyst affiliated with Stanford University. “They instead wanted to induce a political collapse.”