KABUL, Afghanistan – By the time Ghulam Maroof Rashid’s 50th birthday passed, he had spent more than a third of his life fighting for the Taliban on one battlefield or another in Afghanistan. He believed they would win the war eventually but had no idea that this year would finally be over.

“We once thought that maybe the day would come when we no longer hear the sound of an airplane,” he said this month as he sat on the dusty red carpet of the compound. of a governor of the province of Wardak. “We have been very tired over the past 20 years.

In the final year of the war, the Taliban’s lightning military offensive, the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government, and the withdrawal of the last US troops caused an upheaval as profound as the 2001 US invasion. – two decades ago, this month.

Now veterans like Mr. Rashid are grappling with governance. A generation of women is struggling to keep a small place in public life. And Afghans across the country are wondering what will come next.

Mr. Rashid’s story is just one of the kaleidoscope of experiences Afghans shared during the years of the American war that officially began on October 7, 2001, when the grim silhouette of American bombers overshadowed the Afghan sky.

Since then, a generation of urban Afghans has grown up with an influx of international aid. But for more than 70 percent of the population living in rural areas, the way of life has remained largely unchanged – except for those caught under the violent aegis of the Western war effort that has shifted, injured and killed thousands of people.

The New York Times told five Afghans about the sudden end of the US war in Afghanistan and the uncertainty that awaits it.

Young intelligence officer with the Taliban in the 1990s, Mr. Rashid remembers the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: The collapse of the Taliban. “Then we started our jihad. “

Soon they were planting Russian-made mines and homemade explosive devices on the roads, one of the war’s deadliest tactics. Mr Rashid said he fought mainly in Chak, his home district. This district fell to the Taliban about four months ago.

“I remember it because we paid the army soldiers money so that they could come to their homes,” he said. “I didn’t expect that two months later all the Americans would be gone and we were visiting our friends in Kabul.”

Mr. Rashid found himself once again in the Taliban government. He goes to work in Wardak’s governor’s office every day, sleeps with his family every night, and no longer shivers at the metallic purring of planes above his head.

When the Taliban began their brutal advance across the country this year, Khatera, 34, thought of her daughter, just 14, the same age she was when she learned of her impromptu engagement under the first regime. Taliban to avoid the possibility of forced to marry a talibé.

“I knew what life would be like,” she recalls as the insurgents returned in what appeared to be an unstoppable force. “The women’s season was over.”

She reflected on the career she has built – from broadcaster at a radio station to project manager for an international aid organization – over the past two decades. “I had the pleasure of independence and economic freedom,” she said. “When I walked into those doors I saw what life could be like.”

In the first few weeks since the Taliban took power, much of that freedom has vanished. Khatera is afraid to send her children to school. She is afraid to go to her office and knows that even if she is able to, she could not return to her old job. The international aid organization she works for has put a man in a position to communicate with the Taliban.

“It’s the worst feeling as a woman, I feel helpless,” she said.

On a recent day in September, Shir Agha Safi, 29, stood in front of two Marine Military Police officers outside the tent city on Base Quantico, Va., Which was now his temporary home. He was evacuated from Afghanistan this summer, along with thousands of others.

“I never believed this would happen, that all of Afghanistan would fall into the hands of the Taliban,” Safi said, even though he had spent the past year on one of the most volatile front lines. from Afghanistan.

Until August 15, he was an intelligence officer in the Afghan army, having joined the US-backed military force more than a decade earlier.

When asked, the two Marines had never heard of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, 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, killing and injuring hundreds of combatants and civilians.

“At that time, we still had hope,” Safi said of the battle for Lashkar Gah, which lasted all summer as the surrounding districts collapsed. “We never thought of surrendering.”

It is anything but clear where Mr Safi will end up after he leaves Quantico, although he understands he could be placed in a home elsewhere in the United States.

“Do you know Iowa? ” He asked.

Abdul Basir Fisrat, 48, has driven trucks along the Herat-Kandahar-Kabul road for 35 years, but during the twilight months of the American war, this path marked the collapse of much of the country as the Taliban were heading for the capital.

The first district he saw fall was Nawrak, in Ghazni province, about five months ago. He was relieved to see him disappear: a security checkpoint made up of soldiers from the previous government was shooting at his truck, demanding money to pass. After his seizure, he said, “we thanked God for being saved from the oppression of government soldiers.”

Mr. Fisrat lives in Kandahar with his family, but he travels 1,000 miles whenever there is work. He has lived without education and led under five different Afghan governments since the 1980s, including two led by the Taliban.

Now Mr. Fisrat, who owns three trucks, has the potential to pocket what he was paying in thousands of dollars in bribes to the Afghan government. Under the Taliban, he pays nothing. It would be a significant boon if it weren’t for the deterioration of the economy which made trips less numerous and spaced out. But the absence of a fight allows him to go where he wants when he wants: “If I want, I’ll go in the middle of the night,” he said.

The life of 25-year-old Samira Khairkhwa sums up the gains made by Afghan women during the war years, and the ambition that these advances have sparked in many of them.

After completing her university studies in the north, she traveled to the capital Kabul, through a USAID-funded youth leadership program, and in 2018, she landed a job working on the campaign. re-election of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. From there, she became the spokesperson for the state-owned electricity company in Kabul. She dreamed of running for president herself.

But as the Taliban continued their relentless advance over the summer, Ms. Khairkhwa began to have nightmares. “I dreamed that the Taliban came to our office and our house,” she said. She kept these visions to herself, fearing that telling someone about them might make them come true.

On August 15, Ms. Khairkhwa was on her way to the office when she was caught in the roar of panic in Kabul. She stopped at a restaurant, uploaded a clip of the chaos that ended up on the news, and returned home.

“We didn’t think America would leave Afghanistan in this situation,” she said. “That the Taliban would return or that Ghani would surrender.” But once it happened, we were shocked.

Safiullah Padshah and Yaqoob Akbary contributed reports.