Taliban History

August 16, 2021
Woman gazing into quarry

The Taliban

From first mention in the 1990s to internationally known, the group is now perched to demand recognition as the leaders of Afghanistan.
How It Happened. Why It Matters.

"In a military campaign that has lasted barely four months, a new force of professed Islamic purists and Afghan patriots known as the Taliban, many of whom were religious students until they took up arms last fall … the Taliban are now by far the most powerful force in the country."

Reporter John F. Burns in The New York Times, Feb. 16, 1995. The next year, the Taliban gained control over most of Afghanistan – imposing Islamic law, ruling by force and fear, and cultivating ties to the terrorist group al Qaeda.

Recent Timeline: 2021

  • April 14: Pres. Biden announces the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by September 11; Pres. Trump had previously set the date for May 1, 2021 (with conditions).
  • July 8: Withdrawal date updated to Aug. 31.
  • August 6: Taliban overtake their first provincial capital.
  • August 15: Taliban enter Kabul & overtake the Afghan govt. From beginning to end, their march to the capital took less than 10 days, roughly 4 months after Pres. Biden's updated withdrawal announcement.

Taliban Origins

  • 1994: First reference of the Taliban soon after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan.
  • Based mainly in the Pashtun tribal region, which straddles Afghanistan & Pakistan.
  • The name 'Taliban' derives from the Pashto language & directly translates to "students;" origin tracked to Mullah Omar and the students of his religious schools, which taught a strict form of Sunni Islam, in Kandahar (key southern city in Afghanistan).
  • Ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001; overthrown by U.S. govt. post 9/11.


  • Size: The Taliban has 58,000-100,000 full-time soldiers; the exact # is not confirmed.
  • Funding: They rely largely on illegal drug trade & impose high taxes on heroin producers & poppy growers; reportedly receive funding other nation-states like Pakistan, Russia, etc.
  • Leaders: Since 2016, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, a Pashtun who used to lead the Taliban's Islamic courts.
  • Their mission: Emphasize and enforce their militant version of Islamic law, seize control of Afghanistan, establishing an Islamic emirate.

Something To Consider: "Pundits in Washington repeat the mantra that there was 'no military solution' in Afghanistan. The Taliban seem to have come up with one," writes one former National Security Advisor, who also calls the Sunni Islam-inspired Taliban and al-Qaeda (a Sunni Islam terrorist group) "intertwined." Read the whole piece on our source page.

BBC: Who Are the Taliban?

Mapping the Advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the Tragic Toll of Washington Delusion: Pundits repeat the mantra that there was 'no military solution.' The Taliban seem to have come up with one. – Wall Street Journal

Contains a link to the peace agreement signed between the Taliban and the United States in 2020

by Jenna Lee,