After 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan the war has come to a terrifying and dramatic end with the panic-filled evacuation of thousands of westerners from Kabul.
As the city falls under brutal Taliban control and the country into an abyss of iron-rule Sharia law the world is asking: How could it have ended so appallingly?
Here, we answer those questions about why it happened and what the future holds for Afghanistan’s terrified civilians.
Who gets the blame?
President Biden made the decision in July to withdraw troops, bolstering Taliban resolve, whilst weakening the Afghan Army.
It was a catastrophic intelligence failure, under-estimating Taliban potency.
The insurgents are thought to have been bribing Army commanders for months.
This intelligence failure made Washington think the insurgents might not take Kabul for another 90 days. It took roughly that in hours.
But it was Trump who sowed the seeds of the withdrawal, sending his envoys to do a deal with the Taliban and undermining NATO.
Biden inherited this momentum, the mistake of his career, given the intelligence failure that woefully under-estimated the Taliban.
This was a weakened intelligence community in Washington that had been ridiculed, undermined and neutered by bungling Trump.
It may not have been capable of dealing with the enormity of Afghanistan.
AFP via Getty Images)
Trump’s behaviour led to a third of State Department quitting, putting a scythe through the US diplomacy capability and many CIA officers quit.
These are the very people who will have advised the Presidency.
President Ashraf Ghani is thought to have secretly done a deal with the Taliban, paving the way for his own departure in the days before fleeing.
This act of treachery, first revealed in the Daily Mirror, meant he cynically gave up, offered a huge boost to the advancing Taliban and abandoned his country.
And then he fled, allegedly carrying cars full of cash.
Ultimately the 300,000-strong, supposedly well-trained and equipped Afghan National Army failed to hold back the Taliban.
This fleeing, surrendering and cowering army must shoulder much of the shame and blame having prepared for this moment for years.
It was incredibly naive of the West to believe they were ready but many Afghan commanders must shoulder much of the blame, possibly even for treachery if they took Taliban money.
Behind the scenes and overtly in deals with the West, promising peace and various cease-fires the Taliban has lied repeatedly about its intentions.
But the naivety and dreadful errors in western intelligence gathering will lead to recriminations for many years to come.
And American and British politicians must bear blame too, the Americans for having quit and the UK for having failed to gather another coalition, for giving up.
It is shameful for the West to have been so surprised by this lightning coup, to have so horribly miscalculated after all these years.
Ultimately, however, how could the CIA – America’s supposedly brilliant intelligence agency – have got it so wrong?
Who are the Taliban?
They are extremists dating back to the 1980s when CIA-backed mujahedeen fought the Russians but emerged in 1994 during an Afghan civil war.
They ruled in 1996 with an iron fist and a brutal form of Sharia law, imposing executions, amputations and horrific subjugation of women.
After the 9/11 atrocities the Taliban was toppled by a US invasion seeking vengeance for the attacks by al-Qaeda which was based in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have no interest in what goes on outside Afghanistan but al-Qaeda, their guests back then and their guests once again, are obsessed with attacking the West.
AFP via Getty Images)
Why are they so powerful?
Their war chest has been swollen by secret funding from the Pakistan secret service, seeking to destabilise the country just over their border.
China is also thought to have secretly dealt with the Taliban in exchange for Taliban oppression of Uighur Muslims and mineral deals in Afghanistan in the future.
Afghanistan’s heroin trade has hugely enriched the Taliban and other warlords, taxation, extortion, kidnapping and other crimes have also helped.
But the runaway advance also boosted their armoury of weapons and military vehicles left behind by the Afghan Army.
Who is their leader?
The supreme leader is 62-year-old Mawlai Hibtullah Akhundzada, also known by the Taliban as leader of the faithful – or Emir al Momineen.
As a hardman Pashtun, born in Kandahar, he belongs to the Noorza tribe and his first name means “gift from Allah”. His father was a religious scholar who led the local mosque.
A veteran of many battles he fought with the mujahedeen against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and was once “head of crime-fighting” for his local area under the Taliban.
He rose through the Taliban ranks and is known to be a shrewd strategist –something that became apparent with the Taliban coup.
Where will the Taliban fit on the world stage?
The West will struggle to deal with them, purely on the human rights abuses they have already done and which are already escalating.
The truth is that American has been dealing with the Taliban, negotiating for years trying to strike a peace deal so that the coalition could exit Afghanistan.
But Pakistan will continue backroom deals with the new regime and the Taliban have formed a loose alliance with neighbouring China, a regime which is not squeamish on human rights.
Some Arab countries also have a role to play in dealing with the Talibån, such as Qatar, where the Taliban have long held their HQ.
AL JAZEERA/AFP via Getty Images)
Who will the Taliban target?
Their immediate target will be anyone who has dealt with western forces and officials over the past 20 years.
They will try to hunt down Afghan officials who played a role in the American-backed government. And foreigners will also likely be a target.
Women will also fear massive clampdowns on their freedom and will likely suffer violence if they are suspected of breaching the Taliban’s Sharia-based rule.
What about British jihadis heading for Afghanistan?
This is a real fear and could present a nightmare for the UK as there are thoughts to be hundreds of wannabe jihadis who have been prevented from going to Syria already radicalised and desperate for a new front line. This will be a genuine worry for MI5.
The Taliban are parochial and not interested in “foreign fighters”. But al-Qaeda would welcome them and then there is ISK, the Islamic State branch with 5,000 fighters in Afghanistan.They might recruit British and other European fighters.
What about other NATO countries?
NATO countries apart from the United States should also shoulder the blame for not coming together.
Many feel the UK could have led a coalition in Afghanistan.
It would have taken only a few thousand troops, along with air support, to keep security there for a few more years.
NATO countries have shown an appetite in the past for nation-building – the US and UK remained in Germany for many decades after the Second World War.