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Protests Spread to Kabul as Taliban Struggle to Govern


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The Taliban face a challenge in running Afghanistan after protesters took to the streets across the country for a second day in a row. At one demonstration in Kabul near the presidential palace, 200 people gathered.CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Protesters took to the streets to rally against Taliban rule for the second day on Thursday, this time marching in Kabul, including near the presidential palace. At one demonstration in the city, about 200 people had gathered before the Taliban broke it up violently.

The Taliban announced a curfew in the southeastern city of Khost, also on Thursday, after protests there. The authorities did not say how long it would be in effect.

And several people were killed in the eastern city of Asadabad when Taliban fighters fired on people waving the national flag at a rally there on Thursday, Afghanistan’s annual Independence Day, according to a witness cited by Reuters.

It was not clear whether the casualties had come from the gunshots or from a stampede they set off, the witness, Mohammed Salim, was quoted by the news agency as saying.

It was a remarkable display of defiance, coming just one day after violence broke out at protests in two other cities, with Taliban members shooting into crowds and beating demonstrators.

It was also further evidence that while tens of thousands are now seeking escape, there were many more left behind and determined to have a voice in the kind of country in which they live.

After sweeping so quickly into power, the reality of governing a changed nation is proving as difficult for the Taliban as their military blitz across the nation’s provinces was fast.

Many critical workers are hiding in their homes, fearful of retribution despite promises of amnesty. And services like electricity, sanitation and clean water could soon be affected, aid agencies say.

While the Taliban, for now, have a monopoly on the use of force, there is no functioning police service in any traditional sense. Instead, former fighters are patrolling checkpoints and — in many cases, according to witness accounts — administering the law as they see fit.

The Taliban leadership’s suggestion this week that the brutality that defined their rule two decades ago was a thing of the past has not always been matched by the actions of the foot soldiers on the street.

Taliban members are intensifying a search for people who they believe worked with U.S. and NATO forces, including among the crowds of Afghans outside Kabul’s airport, and have threatened to kill or arrest their family members if they cannot find them, according to a confidential United Nations document.

Afghans, fleeing the country, face violence from the Taliban on the dangerous road to the airport, where the U.S. military has tried to quell the continued chaos. The sound of fighter jets roaring over Kabul was nearly constant on Thursday as more U.S. and international forces raced to evacuate foreign nationals, many still trapped outside the airport.

As they struggle with the immediate crisis, the Taliban is facing threats to the long-term stability of the state. The new regime is finding itself frozen out financially.

The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves, a decision that followed pressure from the Biden administration. An agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt.

The assistance is critical in a country where the U.N. estimates that many are going hungry.

“That’s 14 million people, including two million children who are malnourished,” the World Food Program said in a statement.

Some protests turned violent when demonstrators tried to tear down the new Taliban flag and replace it with the tricolors of the Afghan one.

“Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for dignity of the nation and the country,” a top official for the deposed Afghan government, Amrullah Saleh, wrote on Twitter.

In the 20th century, there have been at least 19 iterations of the flag.

Afghanistan — a nation with a brutal history, but also home to beautiful natural wonders and a quilt of cultures — is now the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The Taliban reasserted its new regime in a tweet on Thursday commemorating the anniversary of independence from British rule more than a century ago.

That anniversary was also the occasion for the street protests, with many calling for independence from Taliban rule.

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Gunshots were fired at Kabul’s airport on Wednesday. Since the Taliban took hold of Afghanistan days earlier, the airport has been a scene of chaos and of hopes of freedom.

The press of the crowd is the first thing you see. At the top of the frame, a man swings something wildly, and a mass of humanity pushes and pulls.

In the distance, the airport. The only escape. The only place in Kabul not under Taliban control, behind blast walls and desperately out of reach. Then, chaos breaks loose.

New video outside Kabul’s international airport obtained by The New York Times on Wednesday offers a vivid illustration of the peril facing Afghans — even those who worked with the Americans and have been told that they can leave the country — as they try to find a way through an increasingly dangerous and forbidding path to escape.

As people scream, a man holding a small child in his arms flashes across the screen. Gunshots ring out. The camera whirls, briefly catching a glimpse of the sun scorching the sands as people scatter for safety.

More gunshots. A woman crouches in fear. There are people in military uniform, but it is unclear who they are and what control they have. At one point, one seems to aim his weapon not into the sky but at the crowd.

A child wails. All around are clothes, shoes and other possessions, personal items left behind in the mayhem.

The harrowing scenes in the minute-long video are also a glimpse at the broader problem facing the United States and other nations as they work to evacuate not only their own citizens, but also the Afghans who have assisted them during two decades of war.

President Biden had set a deadline of Aug. 31 to get an estimated 10,000 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan to safety. Pressed during an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, he suggested that the deadline might be extended.

“Americans should understand that we’re going to try to get it done before Aug. 31.” But, he then said, “If we don’t, we’ll determine at the time who’s left.”

The situation on the ground suggests that it will be exceedingly difficult to meet that target, not to mention evacuating the tens of thousands of Afghans who have worked with the Americans.

The road to the airport has been particularly dangerous in recent days, with Taliban members patrolling checkpoints. Just after 7 a.m. on Thursday, a Taliban fighter stood on a concrete barricade, holding a radio and a handgun in one hand and shouting. Taxis inched forward along a road lined with abandoned cars.

An Afghan British family waited in the crowd, a mother and daughter wearing black chadors and head scarves, and two sons standing next to suitcases.

Some families waited in taxis. Others got out to walk. Parents carried small children, and a man pounded on the back of a van to keep it from backing into his mother, whom he pushed in a wheelchair.

Correction: 

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the day the video was taken outside Kabul’s international airport. It was taken on Wednesday, not Thursday.

Afghans trying to enter the military side of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Armed fighter jets are making passes over Kabul and the Hamid Karzai International Airport as part of the effort to secure the massive evacuation of American citizens and allies from Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, said the flights, which have been going on since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday, are meant to provide air support for the evacuation. But the warplanes are not making “low passes,” he said, and are providing only what he called “overwatch.”

“We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve the goal” of protecting Americans, Mr. Kirby said.

As of Thursday, the Pentagon said, some 7,000 Americans and other evacuees, including Afghan allies of the United States, have been airlifted out of the airport. Maj. Gen. William Taylor told reporters on Thursday that there are multiple gates at the airport now open.

That is still well short of the 5,000 to 9,000 passengers a day that the military can fly out once the evacuation process is at full throttle, Defense officials said.

On Thursday, the State Department said there 6,000 people at the Kabul airport fully processed and waiting to board planes

There have been reports of non-American evacuation flights leaving with many empty seats, a sign of the difficulties facing the thousands of people trying to make their way to the airport to flee Afghanistan. The Pentagon has warned the Taliban not to interfere with the evacuation.

Americans who get to the airport have been making it into the compound, a Pentagon official said. But Afghan allies have run into problems, both getting through Taliban checkpoints on the road to the airport and getting into the gates once they arrive.

President Biden discussing Afghanistan at the White House on Monday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Wednesday that the United States was committed to evacuating every American out of Afghanistan, even if that may mean extending the military mission beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for a total withdrawal.

“If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out,” Mr. Biden said during an interview on ABC News.

“So Americans should understand that troops might have to be there beyond Aug. 31?” asked the interviewer, George Stephanopoulos.

“No,” Mr. Biden replied. “Americans should understand that we’re going to try to get it done before Aug. 31.” But he then said, “If we don’t, we’ll determine at the time who’s left.”

Mr. Biden, as he did earlier in the week, offered a strong defense of his administration’s handling of the military withdrawal, which has plunged Afghanistan into chaos.

“The idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing — I don’t know how that happens,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the network.

Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Biden whether in making the decision to withdraw forces from America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan he had “priced in” the risk that United States citizens and Afghan allies would struggle to evacuate the country, putting them in danger from Taliban forces who might try to exact revenge.

The president initially answered “yes,” and then added: “Now exactly what happened, I’ve not priced in.”

In the days since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday, thousands of Americans and Afghans have surged toward the airport, seeking flights out of the country. Taliban forces outside the airport have been brutally stopping many people at checkpoints. Many others have made it to the airport perimeter only to be turned away.

Mr. Biden insisted in the interview that the Taliban had agreed to let U.S. citizens get through to the airport.

“Look, one of the things we didn’t know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out,” he said. “What they would do. What are they doing now? They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, et cetera.”

That was not the case, he acknowledged, for the thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. and NATO forces over the years and now have a target on their back.

“They’re having — we’re having some more difficulty having those who helped us when we were in there,” the president said.

The president insisted that the administration had acted swiftly to evacuate the American Embassy in Kabul without losing any lives.

And though the world has looked on in horror, he appeared dismissive of the images of United States military planes taking off with Afghans clinging to their sides. Some plunged to their deaths.

“That was four days ago, five days ago!” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Stephanopoulos asked whether what happened was a “failure of intelligence, planning, execution or judgment,” deflected to the broader issue of his decision to end the war.

“Look, it was a simple choice, George,” Mr. Biden said. “When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country, when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off — that was, you know, I’m not, that’s what happened.”

Afghans waiting on the tarmac after landing at the Torrejon military base in Spain early Thursday.
Credit…Belen Diaz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Crowds continued to camp out near Kabul’s airport on Thursday, while U.S. troops tried to quell the chaos and accelerate the evacuation flights.

The mammoth evacuation effort was gathering pace, with Afghan refugees and international repatriates landing in Europe, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.

A Spanish military plane landed before dawn at Torrejon air base outside Madrid, one of three aircraft that the Spanish defense ministry has sent to evacuate citizens and Afghans who worked with the Spanish government, along with their families.

Afghan refugees who arrived in Germany, some cradling children, described harrowing scenes outside the airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital, where Taliban soldiers have blocked the entrances and beat back crowds by firing rifles and occasionally hitting people with sticks and hoses.

Australia has evacuated dozens of its citizens and Afghans to a military base in the United Arab Emirates, where they were awaiting flights to Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday. Amid criticism that military flights were departing Kabul mostly empty — the first Australian plane carried just 26 passengers on Wednesday — Mr. Morrison insisted that the government was moving “as quickly as we can.”

The evacuation effort represents a test of the U.S. withdrawal plans, which call for the country’s troops to stay in Afghanistan only as long as is needed to bring Americans and some Afghan allies home, likely stranding many who want to leave because they fear Taliban attacks.

The Pentagon, which has deployed 5,000 U.S. troops to secure the airport, said that it had asked the Taliban to allow safe passage for American citizens, but that it did not have the ability to go out and fetch people from Kabul or other cities.

Officials said that the U.S. military had evacuated approximately 5,000 people, and that those numbers would increase as U.S. personnel processed about 500 people per hour at the airport gates.

“The Taliban are in and around Kabul right now, but they are not interfering with our operations,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference at the Pentagon.

On Wednesday, The New York Times said that 128 current and former Afghan employees and family members had reached safety. Michael Slackman, an assistant managing editor, said that the group had “kept their heads during some very scary moments” and asked employees to “help all of these families make the transition to new lives abroad.”

But many Afghans who have managed to flee the country have left loved ones behind, unable to secure visas for those who are not immediate family members or to get them to the airport in time for departing flights.

Ahmed Azizi, who worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, at his home in Martinez, Calif. on Wednesday.
Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

MARTINEZ, Calif. — Last week Ahmed Azizi, a former interpreter for U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, was in Kabul embracing his parents and an entourage of two dozen brothers, cousins and nephews who tearfully waved and wondered when they might see him again.

Now he finds himself in a neat two-story home with brown shutters in a California subdivision. He and his wife, Tamanna Rasteen, both 28, are a few blocks from a freeway that whisks them off to downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mr. Azizi is one of hundreds of interpreters and aid workers who assisted the U.S. government during the war and who have made it out of the country as the Afghan government collapsed. Thousands more remain in Afghanistan.

Mr. Azizi’s American story so far: He is a Muslim man sponsored by a Jewish organization living across the street from an evangelical church. “Life is beautiful,” Mr. Azizi said in an interview.

It has been a dizzying journey. Mr. Azizi said he did not realize — no one realized, he said — that as he was leaving Afghanistan it was on the precipice of a regime change. When his plane took off on Aug. 10, the country had a government. When he arrived in California late last week, Afghanistan was in shambles. Three days later, as he was settling into life in California, the Taliban — the enemy he had helped fight for three years — had declared victory.

Mr. Azizi became glassy eyed when he recounted his father’s parting words last week: “Take care of yourself, take care of your wife. God bless you.”

Over tea, Mr. Azizi recounts a shooting, a poignant statement on the difficulties of the American war in Afghanistan. In July 2019, he was interpreting for American troops when an Afghan soldier, a man who was supposed to be their ally, unleashed a barrage of bullets that fatally wounded two American soldiers.

From the time he became a military interpreter in 2018, Mr. Azizi said he felt like he was a marked man. One fellow interpreter was killed in battle. Another was tracked down and slain in front of his family while on leave. Two others were killed near their homes, one decapitated with a knife.

“Every single minute and second I was scared,” Mr. Azizi said.

Now in California he is embarking on the next chapter. Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay, the organization helping him, is paying his rent for now. In a few weeks he will get his green card, allowing him to find employment. His goal, he says, is to enlist in the U.S. military.

“This country gave me this opportunity,” he said. “This country gave me a new life.”

A Taliban fighter walking past a beauty salon in Kabul on Wednesday.
Credit…Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Taliban have pledged that women in Afghanistan will have rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” or Shariah, under their newly established rule. But it is not clear what that will mean.

Shariah leaves considerable room for interpretation. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the past, they imposed a strict one, barring women from working outside the home or leaving the house without a male guardian, eliminating schooling for girls, and publicly flogging people who violated the group’s morality code.

The insurgents have not yet said how they intend to apply it now. But millions of Afghan women fear a return to the past ways.

Here are the basics of what to know about Shariah and how it could factor into the Taliban’s treatment of women.

Shariah is based on the Quran, stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and the rulings of religious scholars, forming the moral and legal framework of Islam. The Quran details a path to a moral life, but not a specific set of laws.

One interpretation of Shariah could afford women extensive rights, while another could leave women with few. Critics have said that some of the Taliban restrictions on women under the guise of Islamic law actually went beyond the bounds of Shariah.

The interpretations of Shariah are a matter of debate across the Muslim world, and all groups and governments that base their legal systems on Shariah have done so differently. When the Taliban say they are instituting Shariah law, that doesn’t mean they are doing so in ways that Islamic scholars or other Islamic authorities would agree with.

Shariah lists some specific crimes, such as theft and adultery, and punishments if accusations meet a standard of proof. It also offers moral and spiritual guidance, such as when and how to pray, or how to marry and divorce.

It does not forbid women to leave home without a male escort or bar them from working in most jobs.

When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned television and most musical instruments. They established a department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice based on a Saudi model.

Restrictions on behavior, dress and movement were enforced by the morality police officers who drove around in pickup trucks, publicly humiliating and whipping women who did not adhere to their rules. In 1996, a woman in Kabul had the end of her thumb cut off for wearing nail polish, according to Amnesty International.

Women accused of adultery were stoned to death.

Experts have been scanning Taliban leaders’ recent behavior for clues as to whether their treatment of women will change.

When a senior Taliban official gave an interview to a female television journalist in Kabul this week, it was part of a broader campaign by the group to present a more moderate face to the world, and within Afghanistan.

But hours later, a prominent anchorwoman on state television said that the Taliban had suspended her and other women who worked there indefinitely.

A Taliban spokesman said that women would be allowed to work and study, and another official has said that women should participate in government — signaling a possible break with past practices.

But outside Kabul, some women have been told not to leave home without a male relative escorting them and the Taliban have prevented women from entering at least one university. They have also shut down some women’s clinics and schools for girls.

Hosna Jalil, the former deputy minister for women’s affairs in Afghanistan, told Deutsche Welle, a network in Germany, that she had little faith the Taliban would interpret Shariah differently now.

“​​Shariah law for them meant lack of access to education, restricted access to health services, no access to justice, no shelter, no food security, no employment, literally nothing,” she said.

A Taliban news conference after they took control of Kabul.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Recognition of a revolutionary authority is never a simple question. After the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917, it was years before its newly established Soviet Union was recognized by Western nations. The United States refused recognition until 1933.

A similar question arises now in Kabul. The Taliban have seized power and have announced that Afghanistan should again be called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as it was when the Taliban last ruled the country in the 1990s.

But it has not yet formed a government, and some hope that any government that emerges in fragmented Afghanistan will be more broadly based than just the Taliban itself.

As a rule, governments talk to other governments, and sooner or later recognize them. For now, however, when it comes to Afghanistan, Western countries are holding off.

The question of recognition is expected to come up when Britain and the United States host a virtual meeting of the leaders of the Group of 7 countries, which is expected to take place early next week. On Thursday, G7 foreign ministers held a videoconference to prepare the ground for their leaders, with the crisis in Afghanistan the main topic, and called for the Taliban to respect human rights and protect civilians.

On the ground in Kabul, diplomats and military officers are talking to the Taliban on practical matters, of course — about the airport, about trying to get safe passage to the airport for those who worked with Westerners. And the United Nations and some other nongovernmental organizations are continuing to work in Afghanistan, though the U.N. temporarily relocated some of its staff.

But then there is the question of aid.

The United States has gotten the International Monetary Fund to suspend payment of some $370 million set to go to Afghanistan on Aug. 23. The fund cited the “lack of clarity within the international community” over recognizing a government in Afghanistan.

The European Union is also suspending development aid “until we clarify the situation” with Taliban leaders, its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said Tuesday after a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. Germany has also suspended aid payments.

The European Commission has pledged about €1.2 billion in development assistance for Afghanistan for the 2021-24 period, and member states have individually promised more. Britain, for instance, wants to double its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to 280 million pounds a year, mostly channeled through U.N. agencies.

Mr. Borrell said similarly that “humanitarian help will continue, and maybe we will have an increase,” given the number of displaced Afghans, the ongoing drought and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Taliban have won the war,’’ he said. “So we will have to talk with them in order to engage in a dialogue as soon as necessary to prevent a humanitarian and a potential migratory disaster.”

Talks would also focus, Mr. Borrell said, “on the means to prevent a return of a foreign terrorist presence in Afghanistan.’’

But he insisted that such discussions would be only on pragmatic issues, and that dialogue did not imply formal recognition of the new regime.

“We will deal with the Afghan authorities such as they are, at the same time remaining naturally vigilant of the respect of international obligations,” he said.

As Taliban fighters patrolled the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, some Afghans tried to go about their daily lives, even as many more sheltered at home.

Afghanistan’s all-girl robotics team working on a project aimed at detecting embedded mines, at their lab in Herat in April.
Credit…Jalil Rezayee/EPA, via Shutterstock

Some members of an Afghan girls’ robotics team that captured international attention have arrived in Qatar, the group says, joining a growing number of people fleeing the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Members of the team left Kabul on a commercial flight on Tuesday and will remain in Qatar to continue their education, according to a statement on Wednesday by the team’s founder, the Afghan tech entrepreneur Roya Mahboob.

Other girls on the robotics team, Afghanistan’s first, planned to remain in the country, where Ms. Mahboob acknowledged that they face a worrying future under the Taliban. The hard-line Islamist movement barred girls from attending school when it last ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, and although its leaders say they will allow greater freedoms, many Afghans are skeptical.

“The Taliban have promised to allow girls to be educated to whatever extent allowed by Shariah law,” Ms. Mahboob said. “We will have to wait and see to what that means.”

“Obviously, we hope that women and girls will be allowed to pursue dreams and opportunities under the Taliban,” she said, “because that is what is best for Afghanistan and in fact the world.”

Members of the team left their hometown, Herat, in western Afghanistan, as the Taliban seized territory across the country last week. They were scheduled to fly out of Kabul on Monday, but amid chaos at the airport, including Afghans crowding the runway and even clambering onto the fuselage of departing planes, their flight and others were canceled.

The team won hearts worldwide in 2017, when six members were denied visas to travel to the United States for a robotics competition, only to be allowed in eventually after a public outcry, a congressional petition and intervention by President Donald J. Trump.

They traveled back and forth between Afghanistan and competitions in North America and Europe for several months until their visas expired, amassing trophies and social media followers.

In 2019, when the Taliban and the United States were working to negotiate a peace agreement, one of the team members, Kawsar Roshan, told The New York Times that a future in which the Taliban denied her an education “would be unbelievable for me.”

The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid addressed reporters in Kabul on Tuesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

As the Taliban took control of Kabul, a spokesman for the group uploaded five videos to his official YouTube page. The videos, each two to three minutes long, showed Taliban leaders congratulating fighters on their victories.

Dozens of pro-Taliban accounts that had sprung up on Twitter in recent days then shared the five videos. Within 24 hours, they had racked up more than half a million views, defying longtime bans by social media companies that have largely designated the Taliban as a terrorist organization.

Now, with governments around the world trying to figure out whether to officially recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s rulers, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have no easy answers as to whether to continue barring the group online.

That has drawn criticism as the tech companies have in recent months suspended the accounts of some Republican lawmakers and others, seemingly with more ease.

Facebook and YouTube removed the accounts of a Taliban spokesman on Tuesday only after The New York Times requested comment on the accounts. The companies did not address why the accounts, which were formed in September, had been on their platforms even with the ban on the group.

A member of the Taliban outside the airport in Kabul on Monday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Taliban militants are intensifying a search for people they believe worked with U.S. and NATO forces, including among the crowds of Afghans at Kabul’s airport, and have threatened to kill or arrest their family members if they cannot find them, according to a confidential document prepared for the United Nations.

The document, from a U.N. threat-assessment adviser, directly contradicted the militant group’s public assurances that it would not seek revenge on members and supporters of the toppled government.

There were multiple reports that the Taliban had a list of people they wanted to question and punish — and their locations, the document said.

Already, the document said, the Taliban had been going door to door and “arresting and/or threatening to kill or arrest family members of target individuals unless they surrender themselves to the Taliban.”

The document, dated Wednesday, was provided to the United Nations by the Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, a group that provides intelligence information to agencies of the global organization. It was shared internally at the United Nations and seen by The New York Times.

Members of the Afghan military and the police, as well as people who worked for investigative units of the toppled government, were particularly at risk, the document said.

It contained a reproduced letter dated Aug. 16 from the Taliban to an unnamed counterterrorism official in Afghanistan who had worked with U.S. and British officials and then gone into hiding before the insurgents came to the official’s apartment.

The letter instructed the official to report to the Military and Intelligence Commission of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in Kabul. If not, it warned, the official’s family members “will be treated based on Shariah law.”

The Taliban have repeatedly issued assurances that they will not use their victory to wreak revenge on people who opposed them. The report adds to the growing doubts about that pledge, and suggests that the Taliban may indeed engage in reprisal killings, as they did when they took over in Afghanistan more than 20 years ago.

Members of the Afghan security forces who surrendered to the Taliban were led through Kabul by the militants on Monday. 
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Using a mix of coercion and persuasion, the Taliban engaged in an offensive early this year in which they cut surrender deals with local leaders across Afghanistan that handed the insurgents bases and ultimately entire provincial command centers.

It culminated in a stunning military blitz this summer that put the militants back in power two decades after being defeated by the United States and its allies.

It was a campaign defined by both collapse and conquest, executed by patient opportunists.

Each surrender, small or large, handed the Taliban more weapons and vehicles — and, vitally, more control over roads and highways, giving them freedom to move rapidly and collect the next surrenders as the security forces were progressively cut off from ammunition, fuel, food and salaries.

Money, supplies and support from Pakistan, Russia and Iran also bolstered their ranks, analysts said.

And each victory added to a growing sense of inevitability that the Taliban would eventually prevail.

Taliban fighters patrolling in Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Wednesday.
Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Taliban may occupy Afghanistan’s border crossings and government offices, but what they control falls far short of a fully functioning country. Services like water, electricity and trash pickup are faltering as state employees hide out at home. The central bank sits effectively empty, with Washington having frozen Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts.

At a news conference this week, Zabihullah Mujahid, the group’s chief spokesman, said that “animosities have come to an end” — part of a strategy to appease the very foreign powers the Taliban have dedicated their lives to expelling, and to smooth over the hard-line ideology that animates their movement.

It is a strategy pursued by almost every modern rebel group to take power.

The Taliban, too, have been here before: On first taking power in 1996, the group sought global acceptance by pledging moderation at home and conciliation abroad. But their efforts toward those goals were halting at best, hampered by inexperience, internal divisions and ideological fervor.

Regardless of whether today’s Taliban leaders have moderated ideologically, their grasp of diplomatic matters and concern with global standing appears to have deepened substantially.

“The quest for diplomatic and political recognition has been a constant in the Taliban’s struggle” to regain power, Barnett R. Rubin, an Afghanistan scholar, wrote this spring.

Evacuees from Kabul being tested for the coronavirus upon their arrival at Tashkent Airport in Uzbekistan on Tuesday.
Credit…Marc Tessensohn/Bundeswehr, via Getty Images

World Health Organization officials warned on Wednesday that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan was impeding efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic and other dire health crises there.

Gauging the spread of the coronavirus in Afghanistan has always been difficult because of a lack of testing. The average daily number of reported new cases peaked in late June at more than 2,000 and has since fallen sharply, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. But it is likely that the figures do not reflect the actual spread of the virus.

Afghanistan’s vaccination efforts have struggled since they began in the spring, harassed by corruption, limited public health resources and widespread public skepticism. According to Our World in Data, less than 2 percent of Afghanistan’s population has been vaccinated.

“In the midst of a pandemic, we’re extremely concerned by the large displacement of people and increasing cases of diarrhea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, probable cases of Covid-19 and reproductive health complications,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, said at a news conference.

He said that agency staff members were still in Afghanistan and were “committed to delivering health services to the most vulnerable.”

Many Afghans are vulnerable to diseases like polio, which has been eradicated in most of the world but is still endemic there. Fourteen million Afghans are suffering from hunger, United Nations officials said on Wednesday.

Aid groups are struggling to provide humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan and to the tens of thousands of refugees a week who are fleeing to neighboring countries. Refugee camps, with their crowded and often unsanitary conditions, can become incubators for the virus, though many camps have fared better than experts initially feared they would.

U.N. officials said that their agencies in Afghanistan were in contact with the Taliban in an effort to coordinate aid and immunizations. Caroline Van Buren, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the Taliban had so far provided protection for all of the refugee agency’s offices in the country.

At the same time, though, the Taliban have resumed some of the practices common when they held power 20 years ago. Ms. Van Buren said that officials had received reports of women being prohibited from going to work, and, in some areas, barred from leaving their homes without being accompanied by a close male relative.

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