The picture of Major General Chris Donahue — taken through a night-vision device as he was boarding a C-17 cargo plane at Kabul Airport on the night between 30-31 August 2021 — has already acquired historical significance. General Donahue was the last US soldier to leave Afghanistan, formally putting an end to the United States’ presence in the country just short of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  

The picture of Donahue was compared on several news articles and social media to the one of the last columns of Soviet armoured vehicles leaving the country through the bridge on the Amu Darya river in 1989, or to the painting titled “Remnants of an Army” which depicts Dr. Brydon as, wounded on his horse, he approaches the garrison in Jalalabad—being the only soldier to survive the disastrous British invasion of Afghanistan of 1839-42. The bottom line of the comparison between the three images was that, once again, a superpower was defeated in Afghanistan. 

Even though—considering the historical precedents and the slow but steady advance of the Taliban through Afghanistan’s rural districts—this outcome was always deemed as a possibility, the rapidity of the collapse of the Afghan Government and its security forces surprised both national and international observers. In only 11 days, the Taliban launched an offensive that allowed them to take over the whole country—with the exception of the Panjshir valley—and make their triumphant entrance in Kabul, just as sitting President Ashraf Ghani sought refuge abroad, leaving his country without a guide. 

In this short article, we will analyse the elements that made the Taliban victory in Afghanistan possible and what its international implications in the medium and long term will be.