For the Taliban, a victory. For other jihadis, an inspiration

It was a scene that once seemed unthinkable: a dour-looking Taliban fighter, his AK-47 on the desk before him, his comrades by his side in the ornate office formerly occupied by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who had fled the country hours before.

For the Taliban, those images from Sunday night, when the group’s fighters advanced from the provinces and breached the presidential palace in Kabul, culminated in a lightning takeover of the country after two decades of grinding combat against the U.S. and its allies.

For other jihadi groups, it was nothing less than an inspiration.

“Twenty years ago, [George W.] Bush declared the end of the Taliban … but the Taliban were patient and did jihad,” Abdul Razzaq Mahdi, a prominent jihadi cleric based in Syria’s opposition areas, declared on his social media channel Monday.

“So, men of Syria! Rely on God, unify your ranks and have the Taliban as your example.”

Whether it’s Al Qaeda affiliates in Mali and Somalia, extremist factions operating in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, or so-called keyboard warriors cheering on from their homes in the West, the Taliban’s victory over Afghanistan’s Western-created government “is the most significant boost to the global jihadist movement since Sept. 11,” said Rita Katz, the founder of SITE Intelligence, an extremist monitoring group.

“Almost every corner of the community — particularly those supportive of the Taliban and Al Qaeda — see the U.S.’s withdrawal and Taliban’s subsequent takeover of Afghanistan as a revival of the jihad started by [Osama] bin Laden,” she said, referring to the onetime head of Al Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, which triggered the U.S.’s entanglement in Afghanistan in the first place.

And the Taliban’s signature relentless, take-no-prisoners mentality is serving as a blueprint for other extremist groups, said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a security expert and fellow at George Washington University.

“They see the Taliban model as one to emulate: If you keep up the fight, then eventually foreign support will go and your enemy will collapse,” he said.

That collapse has been nothing less than astounding. Within the space of a little more than a week, the Taliban managed to upend a long-standing stalemate that for years saw the group control much of Afghanistan’s countryside while the government maintained a tenuous grip on the country’s 34 provincial capitals, including major population centers such as Kabul and Kandahar.

Experts point out that Al Qaeda had in the past controlled cities or provinces in Syria and Yemen respectively; at its zenith, Islamic State’s caliphate occupied a full third of both Iraq and Syria. But the Taliban’s takeover of almost all of Afghanistan — orchestrated after years of steely resolve — is arguably the first time that a designated terror group has seized the reins of power of an entire nation, one with 38 million people.

“In terms of size and control, it’s unprecedented. The Taliban’s control now is greater than what it was in 1996-2001,” Tamimi said, referring to the previous era of Taliban rule. With it comes sovereignty over a land mass that acts as a conduit between no less than six countries, including Pakistan, Iran and China; they also gain lucrative sources of funding with vast deposits of minerals that could yield almost $1 trillion, not to mention a long-standing hash and opium drug trade.

Additionally, the Taliban’s rout occurred with little resistance from Afghan troops who — exhausted, under-paid, under-supplied and overstretched — surrendered en masse to their Taliban adversaries. The result was the group’s militants scooping up billions of dollars’ worth of materiel, including M-16 rifles, mortars and anti-aircraft guns, Humvees, armored personnel carriers and even a number of light attack prop-planes and Black Hawk helicopters.