On a recent day in September, Shir Agha Safi, 29, stood in front of two Marine military police officers outside the tent city on the base in Quantico, Va., that was now his temporary home. He had been evacuated from Afghanistan this summer, along with thousands of others.
“I never believed that would happen, that all of Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban,” Mr. Safi said, even though he had spent the last year on one of the most volatile front lines in Afghanistan.
Until Aug. 15, he had been an intelligence officer in the Afghan Army, after joining the U.S.-backed military force more than a decade earlier.
Both of the Marines, when asked, had never heard of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan’s southern Helmand Province, where Mr. Safi had spent months locked in a bloody urban battle with the Taliban. A cascade of suicide bombings and airstrikes, both Afghan and American, destroyed much of the city, leaving hundreds of combatants and civilians dead and wounded.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
“At that time we still had hope,” Mr. Safi said of the battle for Lashkar Gah, which dragged through the summer as surrounding districts collapsed. “We never thought to surrender.”