KABUL — The spectacular collapse of Afghanistan’s military that allowed Taliban fighters to reach the gates of Kabul on Sunday despite twenty years of training and billions of dollars in American aid began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials.
The deals, initially offered early last year, were often described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons, according to an Afghan officer and a U.S. official.
Over the next year and a half, the meetings advanced to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces, according to interviews with more than a dozen Afghan officers, police, special operations troops and other soldiers.
During the past week, more than a dozen provincial capitals have fallen to Taliban forces with little or no resistance. Early Sunday morning, the government-held city of Jalalabad surrendered to the militants without a shot fired, and security forces in the districts ringing Kabul simply melted away. Within hours, Taliban forces reached the Afghan capital’s four main entrances unopposed.