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‘Shock’ and anger across Afghanistan as Taliban blitz through cities

People in Afghanistan are in disbelief and angry at their local leaders as the Taliban advances across the nation, reports special correspondent Jane Ferguson. Fergson spoke with William Brangham about how quickly security forces in the region collapsed after the U.S. backed out.

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  • William Brangham:

    The Taliban blitz across Afghanistan is accelerating.

    Militants secured huge gains today, taking more provincial capitals and closing in on Kabul. The biggest seizure was Kandahar, the second largest city, and where the Taliban was first created. Fighters also captured Herat in the West, the country's 30 largest city. They also overran Ghazni, cutting off a key supply route Southwest of Kabul that leads to Kandahar.

    Meantime, in Washington, the Pentagon announced that 3,000 American troops will deploy to Kabul over the next 24 to 48 hours to facilitate withdrawal of some American personnel from the U.S. Embassy. Another 1,000 will go to Qatar to help process visas for eligible Afghans who are seeking to escape.

    But most American forces have already left Afghanistan.

    At the State Department, spokesperson Ned Price denied, under repeated questions, that the United States was abandoning Afghanistan.

  • Ned Price, Spokesperson, State Department:

    I want to be very clear about what this is and what this is not, starting with the latter, what this is not. This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not the wholesale withdrawal.

    What this is, is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.

  • William Brangham:

    For more on all of this, we turn to special correspondent Jane Ferguson, who has reported on Afghanistan for the "NewsHour" extensively.

    Jane, great to see you.

    I wonder. Help us understand this. There has been such terrible news coming out of Afghanistan every single day. Did people expect that it would get this bad this quickly?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    I think the answer, William, is that people expected things were going to get bad, but not this quickly.

    Now, there's been much speculation as to what would happen after the United States said that it was going to draw down unilaterally, that it would have an unconditional drawdown of U.S. troops. That, of course, sends a message to the Taliban and gives them a huge morale boost on the battlefield.

    It has also given them a technical boost on the battle field with the drawdown of U.S. airstrikes and support when it comes to those fights. But I don't think anybody realistically expected this to happen so rapidly. Even just today, going through the day, hearing one city falling and then another and another in such rapid succession, not only people in Washington, D.C., but also Afghans themselves are trying to come to terms with how this could have happened so quickly.

  • William Brangham:

    I know you have been talking to people who are in Kabul, which is currently being nearly encircled by the Taliban.

    How are people there reacting?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    People are in shock.

    You know, they have been living through this particular war for 20 years, but they have never seen anything like this. I have had people calling me from Kabul asking, you know, what is going to happen? They themselves feel like there's a lack of information, there's a lack of clarity. They're on social media. They're trying to figure out, you know, what will happen next and whether or not the capital might fall.

    There's also a pretty clear degree of anger at their own government, at their own leaders, because there's this sense, at least from what people are saying on the ground there, that the rapidity of this Taliban advance seems to show as though there isn't really any strategy. People are struggling to see what strategy their own government has to try to stop this from happening.

    And there's a sense that people within those cities that are being taken are themselves being abandoned, and not just by the United States, but by their own government.

  • William Brangham:

    And what is the signal that people take from the fact that the U.S. withdraws nearly fully, and, almost immediately, the Taliban seemed to take over the vast majority of the country?

    I mean, you touched on the sense of abandonment. I imagine that has got to be a very widespread feeling.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    It is.

    And I think it's also shocked people, because, as you had mentioned before, the Afghan security forces were — they were always going to struggle without the United States to a certain extent. This is a massive support suddenly being taken away.

    But I think people feel shocked that their own security forces have not been able to hold the ground. And when we were there only last month, there were these popular uprisings and militias and local people who were being armed to try to stop this from happening. And so I think many people are feeling as though this advance is something that should have been foreseen by leaders, whether they're in Kabul or in Washington, D.C.

    And they want to know what's going to happen going forward and whether or not they themselves are going to be able to — who they can turn to for protection as the war really comes to everyone's doorstep.

  • William Brangham:

    The United States and other nations have spent several decades training and equipping the Afghan forces to try to allow them to stand up and govern their country and protect their country.

    Why is, it seems, that those forces have dissolved so quickly?

  • Jane Ferguson:

    This has been a big talking point, whether or not the Afghan security forces would be able to hold the ground.

    And it's a very complicated topic. And, as you have said, so much money and expertise has been poured into trying to train and build and stand up this huge military. One of the challenges has been morale. I mean, the Taliban are very well aware that the Afghan security forces have their backers essentially leaving, and leaving unconditionally, no matter what.

    So there's a sense that they only really needed to wait that out. And there's a sense that they have the momentum on the ground, and much of that is psychological. But there's also technical issues as well. You have the Afghan security forces, who have been essentially designed and created and trained and equipped as a Western or as an international model of an army, complex army, that needs equipment, those who can operate that equipment.

    They have been reliant on air support for so long. Can they fight the Taliban in a very, very different kind of warfare? And the last few weeks and days have shown that they have struggled to do that.

  • William Brangham:

    Jane Ferguson, as always, thank you so much for following this for us.

  • Jane Ferguson:

    Thank you.

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