On 18 August 2021, the House of Lords has been recalled to debate the situation in Afghanistan. This article provides a timeline of key events, beginning with the signing of the US-Taliban peace agreement and ending with the most up to date information on the recent Taliban offensive at the time of writing.

Timeline of key events

February 2020

The US and the Taliban signed a peace deal during Donald Trump’s presidency. As part of this deal, the US committed to withdraw military personnel from Afghanistan by May 2021. This was subject to the Taliban upholding its commitments to reduce violence and cut ties with terrorists. The deal came nearly two decades after the US invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States by the Afghanistan based al-Qaeda group.

February 2021

Following his inauguration in January 2021, the new US President, Joe Biden, said that his administration planned to review the US-Taliban peace deal to assess if the Taliban was meeting its commitments.

April 2021

Following the review of the peace deal, US President Biden announced a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021. President Biden said that the US diplomatic and humanitarian work in Afghanistan would continue.

The US withdrawal would be accompanied by the withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military allies, including UK personnel. The UK military has been deployed in Afghanistan since 2001. Whilst the last UK combat mission ended in 2014, some personnel have remained as part of the NATO Resolute Support Mission (RSM). RSM was a non-combat mission aimed at training Afghan forces.

May 2021

Taliban attacks began to intensify. Incidents included a bomb attack outside a school in Kabul where 55 people were reported to have been killed and around 150 injured. Most of the victims were reported to be female students. Fighting also broke out between the Taliban and Afghan forces in the southern province of Helmand. Districts in the Wardak province near Kabul were also seized by insurgents.

June 2021

June saw the Taliban seize several more territories. Over 150 Afghan troops were reported to have been killed or injured, with fighting taking place in 26 of the 34 provinces in the country.

On 22 June, the Taliban took control of the main border crossing with Tajikistan, Shir Khan Bandar.

The United Nations Afghan envoy Deborah Lyons said that insurgents had taken more than 50 of 370 districts since May 2021.

July 2021

On 2 July, US forces withdrew from their main military base at Bagram airfield. This saw the majority of US personnel removed from the country, with some troops remaining to protect the US embassy in Kabul.

Several cities were subjected to weeks of sustained attacks, including Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, as well as the cities of Herat and Kandahar.

On 8 July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that most UK troops had been withdrawn from Afghanistan. He said that the UK Government would now use “every diplomatic and humanitarian lever to support Afghanistan’s development and stability”.

August 2021

During the first ten days in August, the Taliban was reported to have committed several high-profile killings. This included murdering the head of the Afghan government’s media centre. This followed an assassination attempt several days earlier of the Afghan’s acting defence minister.

By 8 August, the Taliban had carried out a sweeping offensive through northern Afghanistan in a bid to encircle the capital Kabul. Kunduz City, an area in northern Afghanistan which has routes to major cities including Kabul, was reported to have been largely in insurgent control by this date.

The UK and US embassies in Kabul accused the Taliban of committing war crimes, including murders of civilians in Spin Boldak, an area in the southern Kandahar province. The Taliban denied these accusations, describing them as “baseless reports”.

By 11 August, hundreds of Afghan forces were reported to have surrendered to the Taliban in Kunduz. US officials speculated that the Afghan government could fall to the Taliban within 90 days. President Biden is reported to have urged Afghan leaders to “fight for their nation”, with Jan Psaki, a White House spokesperson saying:

[The Afghan National Security Defence Forces] have what they need. What they need to determine is whether they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back.

The cities of Herat and Kandahar had fallen to Taliban control by 13 August. The US military estimated that Kabul could soon succumb to insurgent pressure. On the same day, the UK Government announced that around 600 members of the UK armed forces were being deployed to support the evacuation of British nationals from Afghanistan, as well as former British staff eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy.

The last major northern city, Mazar-i-Sharif, fell to the Taliban on 14 August. This left only Kabul and Jalalabad remaining under Afghan government control. President Biden confirmed that he would not reverse the US decision to leave Afghanistan but said the US would deploy 5,000 soldiers to accelerate the removal of US diplomats and Afghan allies from the country.

The Taliban claimed victory of Kabul following the collapse of the Afghan government and reported fleeing of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani from the country on 15 August. The city of Jalalabad also fell to insurgents. In a statement published to Facebook, President Ghani said he had departed to “avoid bloodshed”.

On 16 August, Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, said that the UK Government was confident that it could remove British nationals out of Afghanistan within the next few days. However, speaking on LBC radio, he acknowledged that some people such as interpreters and other local Afghan staff who supported the British mission would be left behind. This followed an earlier announcement by the UK Government in June 2021 of accelerated plans to relocate to the UK Afghan staff who had worked for UK forces. Mr Wallace said that he felt a “really deep part of regret” that it would not be possible to extract all eligible Afghans in the time available. The US has also faced criticism of its evacuation of Afghan nationals who aided the US mission.

A full evacuation of the US embassy continues to take place.

Reading material

House of Commons Library

Government material and NATO publications

Committee reports

Press coverage

Other resources

Cover image by Joel Rivera-Camacho on Unsplash.