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As U.S. Forces Leave Afghanistan, The Country's Future Hangs In The Balance

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Taliban are overrunning districts in Afghanistan. Last week, you'll remember, U.S. forces withdrew from Bagram air base, which effectively ended 20 years of American involvement in Afghanistan.

NPR's Diaa Hadid covers Afghanistan and is with us now. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi there, Noel.

KING: So this story is developing as we speak. What is happening in Afghanistan?

HADID: Just over the weekend, the Taliban overran much of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, and dozens of Afghan troops fled for neighboring Tajikistan. A reporter shared footage of people rushing into an airplane in the provincial capital. He said they were officials scrambling to escape Kabul. And that's because the Afghan capital is seen as the safest place in the country. It's the most heavily defended. So all this comes in a context. The Taliban are moving faster than expected. Since May, they've captured at least a quarter of the country. They control a large dam. They're nearly at Afghanistan's tiny border with China. They've seized one border crossing, and they're fighting to hold more. Taliban loyalists are even sharing videos of themselves overrunning these areas. And they're sharing videos as they seize Afghan military equipment that's been abandoned by fleeing forces. It's fodder for upcoming battles, of course, but the videos in particular have helped create this sense that they're unstoppable, and that perception is important. Morale appears to be collapsing, particularly among Afghan forces in the north.

KING: OK - so a very serious situation. People, you said, are trying to get to Kabul because it is safe or, at the very least, it is safer. What are people in the capital saying, though?

HADID: So, I mean, there's a lot of mixed opinions, and it's all a bit surreal. You have to remember that in Kabul, life is continuing as normal. There's traffic jams; shops are open. What does stick out, though, is that there are thousands of people rushing to apply for passports. Our producer in Kabul, Khwaga Ghani, spoke to three people there this morning. And one is a university professor, Aminallah Masroor. And he says he doesn't think Kabul will fall anytime soon. But he says, sure, outside the capital, people are terrified.

AMINALLAH MASROOR: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: And another woman - she gives her name as Rabia - she imports clothes from Turkey. And she tells NPR she's closing down and leaving the country.

RABIA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: And she says she's worried the Taliban will take over and she won't be able to keep working. Our producer also spoke to a 19-year-old, Samira, and she blames the Afghan government for the Taliban rampage.

SAMIRA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says Afghan security forces are being left to starve. They don't even have bread, she says, because of a corrupt and inept government.

KING: OK. So this young woman is angry at the Afghan government. I imagine other people are as well. Are folks angry at the U.S. government for pulling out?

HADID: Well, it's complicated, Noel. Many Afghans have always felt that the Americans brought nothing but hardship with them, and they're happy to see them go. Others, like urban women who fought for their rights over the past two decades with American support, feel betrayed. They feel like the United States is abandoning them to the Taliban. And you could see that in the responses they had to a July 4th press conference with President Biden, who bristled when reporters asked him about Afghanistan. He said he wanted to talk about happier things. One Afghan human rights activist had snapped back on Twitter - as an Afghan woman, I don't have the option to talk about happy things; I have to worry about looming gender apartheid.

KING: OK. NPR's Diaa Hadid. Thanks for your reporting, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.