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The Taliban: A Militant Group Explained

Why did the Taliban overthrow the Afghan government?

By:  |  August 24, 2021  |    668 Words

As President Joe Biden pulled the American military out of Afghanistan, the Taliban almost immediately took over that country. But who, or what, is the Taliban – and what makes this change in power so important?

The Taliban is a militia group that formed in 1994, and enforced strict Sharia law. In the Pashto language, Taliban means “students.” Many of the Taliban’s members had studied in hardline Islamic religious schools in Pakistan – a country that neighbors Afghanistan.

Background of the Taliban

Before the Taliban formed, there was a civil war in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had invaded in 1979 to support one side of the conflict, while rebel Afghans fought against this.

Some of the men who would eventually lead the Taliban fought alongside the rebel group, called the mujahideen. They were Islamic guerrillas who resisted the Soviets occupying the country. This goal lined up with American interests, and the United States even provided weapons and money to help in the mujahideen efforts to oust the Russians.

The Soviets left the area in 1989, and by 1992 there was more civil war, this time about who would take charge of the nation. The different mujahideen commanders tried to gain power. A few terrorist and extremist groups grew out of the war, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban – some of these groups worked together, while others were enemies. The Taliban emerged as the winner of this conflict, gaining control of the cities Kabul and Kandahar.

What Do the Taliban Stand For?

Veiled women stand in the street October 11, 1996 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo by Roger Lemoyne/Liaison)

In 1996, the Taliban declared Afghanistan an Islamic country that would follow strict Sharia law.

The Taliban base their version of Islamic law on the harsh Wahhabi tradition. They also use the tribal traditions of the Pashtun ethnic group in Afghanistan, which many Taliban members belong to.

Their restrictions included banning women from education or employment, unless they were female doctors. The Taliban also made women wear head-to-toe coverings. They also banned music and television, as well as some activities like flying kites. If any of these laws were broken, the offender faced jail or a public beating.

The Taliban and the US at War

On September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack struck New York City as two planes flew into the World Trade Center buildings. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, was thought to have masterminded the attack, and hiding in Afghanistan. On October 7, 2001, the U.S. invaded the country because the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden.

The Taliban were driven away after a few weeks of bombings. In December 2001, a new interim government was formed, headed by Hamid Karzai. The new government sought to help women and minorities regain the rights that had been granted before the Taliban took over. However, by 2006, the Taliban had regrouped enough to begin fighting again.

U.S. forces stayed in Afghanistan for the next 20 years, trying to set up a new Afghan government and military, while also fighting the Taliban.

In 2018, President Donald Trump started peace talks with the Taliban. On February 29, 2020, they signed an agreement to allow the safe exit of U.S. and other foreign forces. The agreement also sought peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban, however, kept up military practices while participating in the peace talks.

Taliban fighters with tank (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

The Taliban Regain Control

In 2021, President Joe Biden finally started taking American soldiers out of Afghanistan – but the Taliban took over the country almost instantly.

On Sunday, August 15, the group entered the presidential palace and once again took over Afghanistan, 20 years after being driven out of power. This caused a big crisis since President Biden didn’t seem to have a plan to evacuate Americans or Afghans who had helped America. The Taliban agreed to let Americans keep using the airport to fly people out of the country until August 31.

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