Nearly 20 years have passed since Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and President George W. Bush announced that the United States would invade Afghanistan as the first act in a global war on terrorism. Now the United States is grappling with how to define its relationship with the same Muslim rulers they overthrew in 2001 — again a matter of revenge or acceptance — and how to prevent the resurgence of an international terrorist threat from Afghanistan.
Now there are smaller prospects of airstrikes in rural Afghanistan leaving the nameless and anonymous dead as data points in a colored bar graph from a barely read UN report. No roadside bombs hurriedly buried in the dead of night that could hit a government vehicle or a minibus full of families.
Instead, there is widespread concern about what the true form of Taliban rule will be when the Americans are truly gone. And there are fears that the chaotic rush of government collapse during the Taliban advance could leave an irreparable economy, ruin and starvation.
The United States’ conflict in Afghanistan was a long war with a quick end, or so it seemed. But the fate of the withdrawal was decided more than 18 months ago, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw from the country by May 1, 2021. Afghans in cities, and prevent Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups from seeking refuge in the country.
The Taliban’s influence, earned after years of fighting the world’s most advanced military, grew as they conquered more remote outposts and checkpoints, than rural villages and districts, and then the roads between them. By the beginning of this year, the Taliban had positioned themselves near several key cities as the newly inaugurated Biden administration weighed in on honoring President Donald J. Trump’s agreement to leave.
By the time President Biden and NATO announced the withdrawal of US and coalition forces by September 11 in April, the Taliban were already taking district after district. Afghan security forces surrendered or were shot down en masse. Provincial capitals were soon besieged as well, despite the US air force and an Afghan army that Mr Biden and other senior officials said was nearly 300,000 strong. But in recent days, Afghan security forces totaled just one-sixth of those, according to US officials.