Under the shade of a mulberry tree, near grave sites dotted with Taliban flags, a top insurgent military leader in eastern Afghanistan acknowledged that the group had suffered devastating losses from American strikes and government operations over the past decade.
But those losses have changed little on the ground: The Taliban keep replacing their dead and wounded and delivering brutal violence.
“We see this fight as worship,” said Mawlawi Mohammed Qais, the head of the Taliban’s military commission in Laghman Province, as dozens of his fighters waited nearby on a hillside. “So if a brother is killed, the second brother won’t disappoint God’s wish — he’ll step into the brother’s shoes.”
It was March, and the Taliban had just signed a peace deal with the United States that now puts the movement on the brink of realizing its most fervent desire — the complete exit of American troops from Afghanistan.
The Taliban have outlasted a superpower through nearly 19 years of grinding war. And dozens of interviews with Taliban officials and fighters in three countries, as well as with Afghan and Western officials, illuminated the melding of old and new approaches and generations that helped them do it.