What We Know and What’s Next: The Afghan War, Explained

It’s important to know the history of the Afghan war, which started 20 years ago with Operation Enduring Freedom, to understand what’s going on in Afghanistan today. Even though America pulled most of its troops out of Afghanistan in 2014,

It’s important to know the history of the Afghan war, which started 20 years ago with Operation Enduring Freedom, to understand what’s going on in Afghanistan today. Even though America pulled most of its troops out of Afghanistan in 2014, combat operations continued. Now that the Taliban has taken control of the country, the future is uncertain. Here’s everything you need to know about this Afghan war, why it matters to world peace today, and what will happen next.

The conflict in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been in a near-constant state of conflict for decades. The war in Afghanistan today is part of a larger global struggle against terrorist groups. It is often referred to as America’s longest war which it now has lost, stunning the world and leaving people in the country racing to find an exit. However, the first documented incident of U.S. troops being sent into Afghanistan occurred in October 1979, after the Soviet invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan. A few months later, a CIA team set up an undercover operation in the Afghan city of Kandahar, according to The New York Times. However, the latest Afghan war started on October 7, 2001, and finished on August 30, 2021.

Operation Enduring Freedom

Over the last two decades, the U.S. has launched a campaign to “degrade and destroy” al-Qaeda and the Taliban and create a “stable, unified Afghanistan” under the Taliban’s influence. It started in October 2001, after the U.S.’s worst terrorist attack, 9/11, when President George W. Bush said Afghanistan was the “central front in the war on terror.” After invading Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies spent about $800 billion on reconstruction and military operations. The U.S. reached its goal of routing al-Qaeda in the Taliban in December 2014 and then officially left the country in December 2016, even though American troops were still left there. 

The Taliban

The Afghan Taliban’s – as the Taliban’s calls themselves- was formed in Afghanistan by Afghan refugees in the mid-1990s. Since then, the group has fought the central government in Afghanistan, although they had a limited presence in the country’s east in the beginning. The U.S. military initially found the Taliban willing to talk peace, but as the Taliban have become more militarily powerful, the group’s relations with the United States deteriorated. The Taliban doesn’t consider the Afghan government legitimate and has grown increasingly hostile to U.S. and NATO troops. Afghanistan’s Governance Kabul controlled much of the country after ousting the Taliban in 2001, but the Taliban still maintained strongholds throughout the north and west.

Despite the peace talks in 2020, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban, it seems that it was all in vain. The Taliban pledged to cut ties with different terrorist groups, reduce violence and negotiate with the American-backed Afghan government; however, the American forces failed to enforce these commitments. Instead, they reduced support for government forces, which seemed to have accelerated the war’s end.

Afghan War Today

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul, and Ashraf Ghani (the president) quickly fled the country. This led tens of thousands of people to the country’s borders or flooding to the international airport in Kabul in the hopes to be evacuated by foreign nationals and their Afghan allies. Days of chaos at the airport were followed by a suicide attack on August 26, killing as many as 180 people, including American troops. This was marked as one of the deadliest attacks of the war and the end of an era. However, many knew the war was destined to end badly because, according to some experts, the seeds of failure were planted from the very beginning of the Afghan war.

Scenarios for the near- future

When it comes to what happens next in Afghanistan, the future is uncertain. Even though the United States has officially declared an end to its military operations in Afghanistan, they will not be terminated. Instead, they will be transitioned to a new phase, according to Barry Pavel (senior vice president and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council). Moreover, whether the Taliban has fundamentally changed is still an open question. Experts think that the war was already lost when the negotiations with the Taliban and the peace agreement were signed in February 2020. Despite the Taliban promising more tolerance and women’s rights, the past has proven the opposite. A major fear is that the country will once again become a training ground for terrorism, torture, and killings that poses a threat to other countries as well. Learn more on how to change the world through peace efforts.