Taliban soldiers at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2021 

As the Taliban swept across Afghanistan this summer, all eyes were on their fighters as they triumphed over the Afghan security forces, which surrendered in large numbers as the Taliban rapidly advanced. But the Taliban’s victory did not happen overnight, and it did not come about because of the group’s military might alone. Rather, it was the result of a two-decade-long insurgency against the Afghan government and its Western supporters, chiefly the United States. This struggle for power largely played out on the battlefield but also included efforts to win political influence within Afghanistan’s provinces at the

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