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
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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”.
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.
House of Commons Library
- House of Commons Library, Withdrawal of Military Forces in Afghanistan and its Implications for Peace, 17 August 2021
- House of Commons Library, Resettlement Scheme for Locally Employed Civilians in Afghanistan, 16 August 2021
- House of Commons Library, Afghanistan: Development, UK Aid and the Future, 28 July 2021
Government material and NATO publications
- HM Government, ‘Afghanistan and the UK’, accessed 16 August 2021
- NATO, ‘Resolute support mission in Afghanistan’, 6 July 2021
- NATO, ‘ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan (2001–2014)’, 1 September 2015
- House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee The UK and Afghanistan, 13 January 2021, HL Paper 208 of session 2019–21; and Government Response, 12 March 2021
- BBC News, ‘Mapping the advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan’, 15 August 2021
- Independent, ‘How quickly did the Taliban advance across Afghanistan?’, 16 August 2021
- Agence France-Presse, ‘Timeline: the Taliban’s sweeping offensive in Afghanistan’, Guardian, 16 August 2021
- Malik Musdassir, ‘Afghanistan: Life in Kabul after the Taliban victory’, BBC News, 16 August 2021
- Peter Beaumont, ‘Who are the Taliban and how will they govern Afghanistan this time?’, Guardian, 16 August 2021
- Ben Doherty and Luke Harding, ‘Kabul airport: footage appears to show Afghans falling from plane after take-off’, Guardian, 16 August 2021
- Tony Diver, ‘UK will engage with Taliban in bid to stop terror attacks in the West, Dominic Raab says’, Telegraph (£), 17 August 2021
- Henry Zeffman, ‘Ministers plan to resettle Afghan refugees in Britain’, Times (£), 17 August 2021
- Imperial War Museums, ‘What was the British role in Afghanistan?’, accessed 16 August 2021