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How did the Taliban rapidly solidify control over Afghanistan? from the Atlantic Council 21.08.21

As the Taliban rapidly solidified control over Afghanistan this week, the world was left searching for answers—about the reasons for the collapse, what the Biden administration was thinking, the fate of US allies, the plight of women, how the Taliban would rule, and more. Our team at the Atlantic Council—drawn from former US and Afghan ambassadors, veteran Pentagon and White House officials, and beyond—was working furiously to answer them. They analyzed the developments, stayed in close touch with the US government, and wrote prolifically in order to give our readers the depth of insight they deserve. You can catch up on all of our coverage here. Below is a selection of the best.

There’s no one better to dissect the Taliban’s incredibly effective military strategy than Benjamin Jensen, who explains these surprisingly resourceful fighters who are often “even more skilled at using social media than AK-47s.” A professor at the Marine Corps University School of Advanced Warfare, he’s also an officer in the US Army Reserve who recently returned from overseas where he was supporting the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. Here he breaks down the four pillars of Taliban strategy. Read more.

Flooding the zone. As Taliban fighters tested out the upholstered chairs in Kabul’s presidential palace on Sunday, I put out a call to our massive roster of Afghanistan experts and asked them to put this moment into context and tell us what’s next. They delivered. Twenty-one people responded to detail everything from the crisis facing women to new challenges in the counterterrorism fight and the implications for America’s great-power competition with China. This compilation is now the Atlantic Council’s most-read story of the year by far. Read more.

Cash rules everything. While the military and humanitarian fallout was drawing most of the attention this week, Alex Zerden decided to follow the money. And in Afghanistan, there’s quite a bit of it sloshing around. A former Treasury Department attaché to Kabul, Alex analyzes how the Taliban might expand its war chest. Though the US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund are taking steps to cut off access to hundreds of millions of dollars—as the Council’s Josh Lipsky and Will Wechsler explained in the Wall Street Journal— the militants will not be hurting for cash. And this is thanks in large part to two decades of US largesse. Read more.

Was the war worth it? Yes, says former Afghan Ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani. It’s an answer that might stun many Americans. But she explains it in personal terms, focusing on the gains that were made for women and civil society. “The educated will not be uneducated,” Rahmani tells our South Asia expert Irfan Nooruddin in this video interview. Watch now.

Something else catch your eye at the Atlantic Council or beyond this week? Email us at to let us know.

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