The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on Sunday after a rapid advance across the country, overwhelming government forces and sending large parts of the population into panic.
On Monday, thousands of Afghans had fled to the main airport in Kabul, the capital. US troops struggled to secure the airport for their own evacuation flights, while blocking many Afghan civilians who flooded the tarmac hoping to escape.
Much of what we know about the past few days has come from images posted on social media by Afghan civilians, Taliban insurgents, contractors and journalists.
The Times reviewed and verified scores of these videos to see what that frenetic takeover of the country looked like in practice. This is what we found.
Some resistance, followed by withdrawal
In several cities, Afghan security forces waged a vigorous battle to stop the Taliban advance, including: show videos exchanges of gunfire.
But much more common during the Taliban offensive were the scenes of apparent withdrawal by government forces left poorly rested to secure the country after the American withdrawal.
In district after district, videos showed caravans of government military vehicles heading towards borders and airports.
In one video, an escaping Afghan convoy hid a bridge on the border with Uzbekistan, reminiscent of Soviet soldiers who left the country decades earlier over the same bridge.
Other videos show multiple Afghan military convoys that fled across the border into eastern Iran.
The rapid capitulation of the Afghan security forces occurred despite the fact that the US had spent more than $83 billion on weapons, equipment and training. When districts fell, so did military air bases.
At Herat airport, multiple videos show that the Taliban managed to seize and pilot one of the Soviet-era Mi-17 helicopters of the Afghan Air Force. It’s unclear whether the insurgents knew how to fly the helicopters or depended on pilots switching sides.
One social media image analysis, confirmed by The Times, shows that since the Taliban’s offensive began in May in May, they have captured at least 24 of the Afghan Air Force’s approximately 200 aircraft, including US-supplied helicopters and a light attack aircraft.
It is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to fly these planes without an air force of their own. Most abandoned helicopters are damaged or can no longer fly mechanically. Experts say those who can fly require extensive maintenance and skilled pilots.
Perhaps even more beneficial to the Taliban are the hundreds of Humvees and pickup trucks they’ve captured, along with countless caches of weapons and ammunition. In social media videos, Taliban insurgents showed off their newly acquired weapons and vehicles.
In the days leading up to the fall of the Afghan capital, the Taliban took many well-known provincial capitals.
In Herat, Taliban insurgents riding in police vehicles surrounded the entrance to the citadel, the historic heart of Afghanistan’s third-largest city.
And in Jalalabad – just east of Kabul on a major route to the capital – a Taliban convoy paraded through the city center.
The arrival of the insurgents in Kabul, as elsewhere, apparently went without a fight.
Videos showed fighters on trucks and motorcycles fanning out across the city, sometimes to cheers and applause.
They eventually reached the presidential palace, abandoned by President Ashraf Ghani, who had fled earlier in the day. An Al Jazeera correspondent accompanied the fighters into the palace for a rambunctious live broadcast.
Taliban commanders said they were now in charge of the security of the capital and did not want any conflict with the United States.
US military transport helicopters criss-crossed the skies over Kabul on Sunday, bringing embassy personnel and other US citizens to Hamid Karzai International Airport, which quickly became the de facto operating base for many Western governments.
Anthony Mejia, a US helicopter maintenance contractor, filmed his own nighttime evacuation and posted it on Instagram.
US officials said all about 4,000 embassy employees arrived at the airport Monday morning in Kabul. But it was unclear what would happen to it the thousands of Afghans who had worked for the US government and applied for special visas to live in the United States.
Videos showed Afghans queuing for flights out of the country at the airport.
“Every 15 minutes an American plane flies and a second lands,” said a man who filmed a video. “There is chaos as people board the plane.”
Citizens left behind
But during these military evacuations, thousands of Afghan civilians flooded the Kabul airport on Sunday and Monday in a desperate attempt to flee the country. Gunshots were heard at several points, but it is not clear who was responsible.
When the Taliban took over the city, commercial flights were postponed or cancelled. The few remaining flights faced a deluge of passengers, leading to conflict as people tried to board.
On Sunday evening, US forces took over security at the airport and commercial flights were canceled as military evacuations continued.
The next morning, videos and photos showed American soldiers barring civilians from access to parts of the airport. Meanwhile, crowds climbed walls and swarmed across the tarmac, hoping to reach departing planes.
In an apparent effort to clear the runway, two Apache helicopters flew at low altitude over hundreds of civilians surrounding a C-17 transport plane — several clinging to the sides.
Some seem to have persisted as the plane got higher. Another video shows two people falling from the plane after it was well above the runway.
Brace yourself for the future
Many Afghans in Kabul spent the weekend preparing for life under Taliban control. Some stood in huge lines to withdraw money from a bank.
Others rushed to buy food and supplies.