- BBC News World
After 20 years of conflict, the United States is withdrawing most of its troops from Afghanistan.
For Washington and its allies, the Bagram air base had been the epicenter of the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
US-led coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in December 2001, and Bagram grew into a massive base capable of holding up to 10,000 troops.
They have now retired after President Joe Biden promised that all American forces would leave before September 11 (this Thursday, he moved the date to August 32).
Meanwhile, the Taliban is gaining ground as rapid advance continues across Afghanistan, taking control of dozens of districts.
The cost of this war has been astronomically high, both in lives and in money.
But what was it about? Did the United States achieve what it set out to do?
1. Why did the United States invade Afghanistan?
On September 11, 2001, several attacks in the US killed nearly 3,000 people after planes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia.
A fourth plane went down in a field in Pennsylvania.
Osama Bin Laden, the head of the Islamist terror group al-Qaeda, was soon identified as the man responsible.
The Taliban, made up of radical Islamists who controlled Afghanistan and protected Bin Laden, refused to hand him over.
Then, a month after 9/11, the United States launched airstrikes against Afghanistan to defeat both groups.
2. What happened after?
Two months after the United States and its international and Afghan allies launched their attacks, the Taliban regime collapsed and its fighters dispersed in Pakistan.
But they did not disappear, their influence grew again and they entrenched themselves. The group was making hundreds of millions of dollars a year from drug trafficking, mining, and taxes.
A new US-backed government took office in 2004, but deadly attacks by the Taliban continued over the years.
International forces working with Afghan troops fought to counter the threat from the revitalized group.
The conflict caused enormous damage to Afghans, both civilian and military.
3. Did Afghanistan’s problems start in 2001?
The short answer is no.
Afghanistan had been in an almost constant state of war for decades, even before the United States invaded it.
In the late 1970s, the soviet army invaded Afghanistan to support his communist government.
He fought a resistance movement, known as the Mujahideen, which was supported by the United States, Pakistan, China, and Saudi Arabia, among other countries.
Soviet troops withdrew in 1989, but the civil war continued. In the chaos that followed, the Taliban (which translates to “students”) emerged.
4. How did the Taliban get so much influence?
The Taliban rose to prominence in the border area of northern Pakistan and southwestern Afghanistan in the early 1990s.
They promised to fight corruption and improve the security of Afghans, many of whom were grappling with the effects of a destructive civil war.
They quickly expanded their influence and introduced or supported Islamic punishments, such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers, and amputations of those found guilty of theft.
Men were required to grow beards and women to wear the burqa, a veil that covers the face and body.
The Taliban also banned television, music and movies, and did not allow girls aged 10 and over to go to school.
5. Did the Taliban really never leave?
At times over the past two decades, the Taliban have been on the defensive, but they were never meant to last.
In 2014, at the end of the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 2001, international forces, unwilling to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, ended their combat mission leaving the Afghan army fighting the Taliban.
But this gave the Taliban a boost, which seized territory and detonated bombs against government targets and civilians.
In 2018, the BBC found that the Taliban were openly active in the 70% from Afghanistan.
6. What is the cost of the conflict?
More than 2,300 American military men and women have been killed and more than 20,000 injured, along with more than 450 British and hundreds of other nationalities.
But the Afghan people have suffered most of the casualties, and some research suggests that more than 60,000 members of the security forces have died.
Some 111,000 civilians are reported to have been killed or injured since the UN began systematically recording civilian casualties in 2009.
According to one study, the estimated financial cost to the American taxpayer is close to a staggering $ 1 trillion.
7. Was there an agreement with the Taliban?
In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed an “agreement to bring peace” to Afghanistan, which took years to develop.
Under the treaty, the United States and its NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops in exchange for the Taliban’s commitment not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.
As part of last year’s talks, the Taliban and the Afghan government participated in the release of prisoners.
Almost 5,000 Taliban militants were released in the months after the agreement.
The United States also promised to remove sanctions against the Taliban and to work with the UN to remove the sanctions it maintains separately against the group.
USA negotiated directly with the Taliban, without the presence of the Afghan government.
“After all these years, it is time to bring our people back home,” said then-President Donald Trump.
8. Will all American forces withdraw?
The last remaining US and NATO forces withdrew from Bagram air base, leaving the Afghan government in charge of security.
About 650 US soldiers are expected to remain in the country, according to the Associated Press.
This is primarily to provide protection for diplomats and help protect Kabul International Airport, a vital transportation hub for the landlocked country.
9. What is the situation now?
Since the agreement, the Taliban appear to have shifted their tactics from complex attacks on cities and military posts to a wave of targeted assassinations that terrorize Afghan civilians.
They have seized vast swathes of territory, and threatened once again to overthrow the government in Kabul following the withdrawal of foreign powers.
Al-Qaeda also continues to operate in Afghanistan, and Islamic State militants are also carrying out attacks in the country.
Concerns have grown about Kabul’s future, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insists that the country’s security forces are fully capable of keeping insurgents at bay.
10. Was the presence of two decades in Afghanistan worth it?
“The answer depends on how you measure it,” notes BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner.
High-level security sources told the BBC that since the war began, there has not been a single successful international terrorist attack planned from Afghanistan.
“So if we go purely for the measure of international counterterrorism, the Western military and security presence there succeeded in its objective,” adds Gardner.
But, twenty years later, the Taliban are far from defeated and remain a formidable fighting force.
Some reports suggest that June saw the worst violence since the arrival of the coalition, with hundreds of lives lost.
And hard-won development is also under threat, with schools, government buildings and power towers now damaged or destroyed.
“Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other militant groups have not disappeared, they are re-emerging and are certainly encouraged by the imminent departure of the last remaining Western forces in the country,” Gardner says.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.