The Taliban seizure of provincial capital Kunduz, writes Joseph Goldstein in the New York Times, “was a shocking victory.” But, it “hardly happened overnight.”

Signs of a determined and innovative Taliban campaign in the north, and Kunduz in particular, could be seen some two years ago.

… Timed to the American withdrawal, a steady influx of insurgent fighters, a series of probing and patient territory grabs, and a hearts-and-minds campaign that took advantage of resentment of the government eventually delivered the Taliban’s biggest prize of the war.

Especially troubling …

The insurgents’ past aversion to all-out attacks against big cities may not have been because they never thought it possible, but merely because they weren’t ready until now.

… The encirclement of Kunduz began in earnest two years ago, as the American military began pulling out of the province in the summer and fall of 2013.

Nor is Kunduz Province “the only place in Afghanistan where the Taliban have employed similar tactics around provincial capitals this year.”

The Taliban play the long game and there has long been a sense of inevitability to their takeover of Afghanistan. The Afghan government, security forces, and citizens seem to lack the resolve to halt its momentum. Maybe it’s best for the United States and friends to stop trying to squeeze water from a stone and get out of the way while the Taliban take command of the ship of state. At least, that will enable the Taliban to begin the process of learning that it now has a state to govern, services to provide, and other states to deal with. As is usually the case when insurgent groups assume power, an amelioration of their harsh ways would likely follow.