Scenes from the Startling Fall of Afghanistan

On Sunday, the Taliban entered Afghanistan's capital, Kabul — triggering the collapse of the nation's government and the insurgency's takeover of the country 20 years after it was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion.

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Afghanistan crisis

As the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, ending a 20-year war there, the country again fell under the control of the Taliban — with a climactic takeover of the capital over the weekend.

The fundamentalist group entered Kabul on Sunday as Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country in what he claimed was an effort to avert widespread violence. The Taliban took control of the presidential palace soon after.

The insurgency's swift advance came after outlets including The New York Times reported that the Taliban seized over a dozen provincial capitals in recent days, often meeting little resistance from the Afghan military.

Pictured right: Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on Monday.

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Stringer/Sputnik via AP

Pictured right: Taliban fighters are seen on a street near the presidential palace in Kabul.

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Afghanistan. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty

The group, which emerged during a civil war that traces back to the '70s, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the invasion of the U.S. coalition post-9/11.

The Taliban is now in control of the majority of the country, raising fears it will resume a repressive Islamist regime.

"Everyone who already got to America, they are the most lucky of all. They will be able to start new lives," one Afghan who has worked with the government tells PEOPLE. "Here in Afghanistan, we don't know if we are going to survive another day."

The international community has called on the Taliban to respect human rights, particular of women.

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U.S. soldiers in August. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty

In April, Biden announced that all U.S. military troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 — exactly 20 years after the 2001 terror attacks that touched off the war.

Biden has long been vocal about minimizing America's presence in Afghanistan but his administration was also honoring an agreement with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump.

U.S. military involvement in the Middle East has been key part of foreign policy under every president since George W. Bush, who invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.

Over the last two decades, the U.S. and its allies attempted to transform the Afghan government and its military.

Pictured right: U.S. soldiers take turns resting at Kabul's airport.

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Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops came after the Trump administration had negotiated a deal with the Taliban to do the same by May 1. Biden said in March that it would be "tough" to meet the May 1 deadline and subsequently announced a delay.

On Aug. 10, as the Taliban forces continued to make gains on Afghanistan's cities — and as critics said the military exit posed too many dangers — Biden defended his decision, telling White House reporters, "Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years, we trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces."

"Afghan leaders have to come together," Biden said. "They've got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation."

Some experts say this ignores how the Afghan people have suffered most of the consequences and casualties of the war.

Pictured: Taliban members patrol the streets of Kabul

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Paula Bronstein/Getty

Ahead of the Taliban's arrival in Kabul, families from Afghanistan's northern provinces had already fled to the capital.

Pictured: A woman yells for her family as they flee to Kabul on Aug. 12.

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Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty

In the wake of the Taliban takeover this weekend, American military officials said some 6,000 troops were authorized to be either in the Kabul airport or en route, with additional forces on standby in Kuwait, to secure the exit of Americans and allies in Afghanistan

U.S. troops arrived in force over the weekend in Kabul to evacuate staff from the embassy, pictured right.

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The flag at the U.S. Embassy was lowered as personnel was evacuated over the weekend.

Pictured right: the closed entrance gate of the embassy compound.

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Afghanistan. SHAKIB RAHMANI/AFP via Getty

On Monday, after facing widespread criticism from U.S. political leaders, Biden reiterated his stance on the withdrawal in a speech from the White House.

"I'm left again to ask of those who think that we should stay: How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan's civil war if Afghan troops will not?" he said. "How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?"

"I'm clear on my answer," Biden said. "I will not repeat the mistakes that we've made in the past."

He added, "I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces."

The troops temporarily deployed to Kabul's airport will not be directly involved with fighting the Taliban. Rather, they will be used to evacuate American personnel and assist with security.

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Afghanistan crisis. Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The chaos at Kabul's airport earlier this week unfolded quickly after the Taliban took the city on Sunday, as Afghans climbed up on planes, scaled concrete walls and ran across the tarmac in an attempt to escape the country aboard international flights.

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Afghan people climb up on a plane and sit by the door as they wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on Aug. 16 after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty

According to the Associated Press, officials said that at least seven people died in the pandemonium. Among those were some who fell from the outside of a U.S. military plane after clinging to it as it took off.

Pictured: People sit in the doorway of a plane as they attempt to leave Afghanistan.

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Thousands of Afghans rush to the Hamid Karzai International Airport as they try to flee the capital of Kabul on Aug. 16. Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The Wall Street Journal, citing a U.S. official, reported that American troops shot and killed two armed men at the airport and that at least three Afghans were run over and killed by an Air Force jet evacuating personnel from the airport.

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Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Pictured right: An Afghan family rushes to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul as they flee the Taliban rule.

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Pictured: Afghan families wait by the luggage conveyor belt while waiting to leave at Kabul's airport.

Human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived being attacked by the Taliban as a girl, voiced her concerns over the group's recent takeover of the country.

"We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan," she tweeted. "I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates."

"Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians," Yousafzai added.

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Paula Bronstein/Getty

Under the Taliban's oppressive regime from 1996 to 2001, women were unable to receive an education or take most types of jobs and were forced them to cover their faces.

Zarifa Ghafari, one of Afghanistan's first female mayors, told British newspaper i News that she is waiting for the Taliban to kill her.

"I'm sitting here waiting for them to come," she told the outlet on Sunday. "There is no one to help me or my family. I'm just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can't leave my family. And anyway, where would I go?"

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WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

In one photo, shared on Twitter by journalist Lotfullah Najafizada, images of women outside of a beauty salon in Kabul were seen being painted over on Sunday.

Pictured: Images of women are spray painted over in front of a beauty salon.

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WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban, newly empowered, is insisting they are a more moderate force, recently promising peace and women's rights. But Afghans and national security experts alike are doubtful of the those assurances.

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Afghanistan evacuation flight

One photo of the evacuation showed some 820 people aboard an Air Force C-17 as it left Kabul on Sunday night.

Defense One reports that the passengers aboard had been cleared for evacuation and, while the plane wasn't built to hold so many passengers, they boarded via a half-open ramp before the aircraft took off for Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

The flight is believed to have carried among the most passengers ever on a military cargo plane.

An official told Defense One that "the crew made the decision to go," even after the large group of Afghans who had been cleared began pulling themselves through the ramp.

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Other photos showed hundreds of people gathered near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane on Monday.

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Kabul airport
The scene at Kabul International Airport in August, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty

Another showed people climbing atop a plane as they waited at the Kabul airport.

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Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

On Monday, Taliban members used military vehicles and tanks to patrol the streets of Kabul.

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Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Taliban patrol the city of Herat on Wednesday.

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