Ending the war in Afghanistan: Yahoo News Explains

America’s longest war is ending. On Thursday, President Biden announced, “Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st.” Over two decades, more than 775,000 U.S. service members were deployed to Afghanistan as part of operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel. More than 2,300 personnel have been killed in action, with over 20,000 wounded. Yahoo News National Security Correspondent Zach Dorfman explains how the war evolved over the years — and what is expected to happen when the U.S. leaves for good.

Video Transcript

ZACH DORFMAN: America's longest war has ended.

JOE BIDEN: Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31.

ZACH DORFMAN: Over two decades, more than 775,000 US service members were deployed in Afghanistan as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom Sentinel. More than 2,300 personnel have been killed in action and over 20,000 wounded. Now 20 years after US forces first rolled through Afghanistan on horseback, remaining American military personnel are withdrawing, in one case in the dead of night, potentially to avoid tipping off the Taliban, and handing over us bases to the Afghan government.

Afghanistan became the first theater of that George W. Bush administration's larger war on terror, as US and other coalition forces hunted for Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and dismantled the Taliban government that gave him sanctuary. Popular support for the war was high domestically and internationally. And the invasion was broadly viewed as a legitimate and just response to the 9/11 attacks.

For the first time in NATO history, the organization invoked its Article V collective security provision, which holds that an attack on one NATO member is akin to an attack on all others. US troops nearly killed bin Laden in late 2001 in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains. But the Al-Qaeda leader managed to escape to Pakistan, where he would be killed by us Special Operations forces in 2011.

US forces quickly routed Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime and helped midwife a new Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai. A weak but nascent and identically corrupt Afghan democracy was born. But the Taliban did not disappear. After retrenching in Afghanistan's Pashtun heartland, the extremist Islamist group launched a deadly insurgency that weakened Afghanistan's central government, destabilized the country, and dragged US forces into a two decade long war of attrition.

Since 2001, over 70,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians have died as a direct result of the war effort, which has cost over $2.2 trillion. US negotiations with Taliban representatives dragged on for years with a peace deal which did not include the Afghan government as a party finalized in early 2020. The deal included a pledge from the Taliban to renounce safe harbor for Al-Qaeda but did not address the underlying Taliban insurgency. Violence escalated and has continued after the US withdrawal was announced.

Afghanistan is already effectively under the authority of two different governments at war. And recent Taliban military victories in Afghanistan's North have underscored the fragility of the government's hold, even on Kabul the country's capital. Two decades after the US swept them from power, the Taliban looks poised to rule Afghanistan again.