As Kabul fell on Sunday, 20 young Afghan tech workers tracked the Taliban’s advance, broadcasting real-time reports of gunfire, explosions, and traffic jams across the city through a new app.
Called Ehtesab, the app relies on ground-level reports from a vetted team of users to a private WhatsApp group.
The reports, which are then verified by the app’s fact checkers, range from security incidents, such as fires, gunshots and bombings, to road closures and traffic problems to electricity cuts. Sara Wahedi, the 26-year-old founder of the app, said the team tried to confirm the reports with the interior ministry, “when it used to exist.”
On Sunday morning, Wahedi and her team were supposed to be uploading the new version of their iOS app but instead found themselves dealing with an ever more frantic stream of reports.
“Breaking on the @ehtesabaf App: Taliban have entered Arghandi, Paghman District. South Gate of Kabul. ANDSF [Afghan National Defence and Security Forces] under attack,” Wahedi wrote on Twitter at the time.
She said that as the Taliban advanced across Afghanistan, Ehtesab had built a reliable way of “getting reports from a lot of different security structures,” including police, the government and international organisations.
Soon the team started receiving reports that the Taliban had captured Bagram prison, in the former US military base just north of Kabul.