The U.S. in Afghanistan, Explained

The two-decade long war in Afghanistan has ended. After almost twenty years and thousands of deaths, all US troops have been withdrawn. 

One of the main reasons the US entered Afghanistan was because of the Taliban, a terrorist group of former Afghan resistance fighters. The group was first created in 1994 and aims to inflict its interpretation of Islamic law on Afghanistan. The Taliban later took over Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, in 1996 and enforced strict rules in order to remove any foreign influence. These rules greatly changed the lives of Afghan citizens, especially women. Afghan citizens lived among the Taliban, but this changed shortly after the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.  

The attacks on 9/11 were organized by another terrorist group, al Qaeda, and its leader, Osama bin Laden. The group was working inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and shortly after the events on 9/11, US forces invaded the country. The Taliban government toppled, and the American mission began. 

The American mission was to stop the Taliban from supplying refuge to al Qaeda and to stop them from using Afghanistan as their headquarters. Once this initial phase was completed, the mission evolved, and the US turned to rebuilding the desperately poor and ravaged state of Afghanistan. 

According to The New York Times (, millions of dollars were spent installing a democratic system of government and building new schools and hospitals. By 2003, there were 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan. By 2010, this number surged to nearly 100,000 troops, but the Taliban only grew stronger. Simultaneously, Bin Laden, who had been hiding in Pakistan for years after 9/11, was killed by a US Navy SEAL team. Shortly after Bin Laden’s death, President Obama announced that he would start to withdraw the American troops still present in Afghanistan.  

Obama ended the American mission in 2014, but US soldiers remained in Afghanistan to train the Afghan forces to uphold the policies that the US had implemented. This plan was set into motion after Obama left office, and the fate of the Afghanistan war was left in the hands of President Donald Trump’s administration.

In 2017, Trump took office but held back from withdrawing the troops. The Trump Administration had been conspiring with the Taliban to come to a peaceful agreement that could end the war, but it was unsuccessful. At this point, the Taliban had almost completely lost power and were desperate, so they campaigned for a takeover of the Afghan government. The government without a fight. 

The beginning of the takeover was violent. The Taliban attacked civilians and bombed major Afghan cities. To alleviate the violence, the Trump Administration signed an agreement with the Taliban that planned to have all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. In return, the Taliban vowed to stop working with other terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda, and reduce violence among civilians. The Afghan government was left out of the deal, and it was solely between the US and the Taliban. However, a key principle of the deal was for Afghan government leaders and the Taliban to negotiate plans for a new government, which some say was doomed from the start.  

The Taliban had the upper hand during the peace-making process with the Afghan government because of its strong forces and the upcoming withdrawal of the US military. According to The New York Times, the Taliban had completely dishonored the deal, as violence was not reduced and there was still contact between the Taliban and various terrorist groups. 

The US began the withdrawal of troops as President Biden became president, and he swore to remove all US forces by Sept. 11. The withdrawal was done quicker than expected. This plan was defective, and as it was set into motion, it was uncovered that Afghanistan was at a higher risk than the US had originally calculated. According to The New York Times, even after two decades of US military training, the Afghan forces surrendered to the Taliban, and Afghan government officials had completely given up and left the country. 

Five days after the White House made that announcement, the Taliban conquered Kabul, and the Afghan government fell before the US was completely out. The government of Afghanistan was under the rule of a terrorist group, putting civilians and deployed American troops at substantial risk. As a result of these risk factors, hordes of people turned to flee the country in fear of the Taliban’s capabilities; more chaos struck as a result. 

The primary fear factors were that the Taliban would conduct revenge attacks on those who worked with the US government and that the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law would be reinstated. People were rushing to Kabul airport, desperate to get out. Some were so desperate that they clung to the side of US military planes as they took off. 

On Aug. 26, two suicide bombers and shooters arranged an attack at Kabul airport. At least 60 Afghan citizens and 13 US troops were killed — 11 US Marines and one Navy medic.

The Taliban claims that it wants to form an “inclusive, Islamic government,” according to AP News ( It will enforce Islamic law, but encourage women to join their government and want to supply a secure environment for the return of “normal life” after the two-decade war concludes. Given its historical record, many believe this new form of government will be just as violent and oppressive, forcing women to be confined to their homes and to lose the rights they have gained since the Taliban was last in power. The Afghanistan war is over, but much is still unknown for the future of Afghanistan.