Afghanistan, why at war?

Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a road side bomb blast that killed six civilians on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 21 July 2021.
Fighting has been going on for 40 years – most Afghans can’t remember a time of peace

After 20 years of war, foreign forces are pulling out of Afghanistan following a deal between the US and the Taliban militants they removed from power back in 2001.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

The Taliban have pledged not to allow Afghanistan to become a base for terrorists who could threaten the West.

But the country’s hardline former rulers have quickly gained territory in recent weeks from Afghan army soldiers, who are now being left to protect a fragile government.

The Taliban also made a pledge for national peace talks, but many fear a worsening civil war remains a far more likely outcome.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden, the fourth US president to oversee what has become America’s longest-ever war – one costing hundreds of billions of dollars – has set a symbolic date of 11 September 2021 for full withdrawal.

Why did the US fight a war in Afghanistan and why did it last so long?

Back in 2001, the US was responding to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed. Officials identified Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and its leader Osama Bin Laden, as responsible.

Bin Laden was in Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban, the Islamists who had been in power since 1996.

When they refused to hand him over, the US intervened militarily, quickly removing the Taliban and vowing to support democracy and eliminate the terrorist threat.

Army soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, B battery 2-8 field artillery - 2011IMAGE SOURCEREUTERS
image captionThe Afghan conflict became America’s longest war

The militants slipped away and later regrouped.

Nato allies had joined the US and a new Afghan government took over in 2004 but deadly Taliban attacks continued. President Barack Obama’s “troop surge” in 2009 helped push back the Taliban but it was not long term.

In 2014, at the end of what was the bloodiest year since 2001, Nato’s international forces ended their combat mission, leaving responsibility for security to the Afghan army.

That gave the Taliban momentum and they seized more territory.

Peace talks between the US and the Taliban started tentatively, with the Afghan government pretty much uninvolved, and the agreement on a withdrawal came in February 2020 in Qatar.

The US-Taliban deal did not stop the Taliban attacks – they switched their focus instead to Afghan security forces and civilians, and targeted assassinations. Their areas of control grew.

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