What You Should Know

With President Biden ordering a complete U.S. retreat this summer, Afghanistan became ground zero of the worst American foreign policy debacle in generations.

America’s military involvement in Afghanistan tracks back to September 11, 2001, when terrorists struck the United States, killing almost 3,000 people. It was quickly clear that this was the work of al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, who was then hosted in Afghanistan by the Islamist Taliban regime. Weeks later, the U.S. led a military coalition of NATO allies and partners into Afghanistan, swiftly deposing the Taliban and launching what became a ten-year hunt for bin Laden. For almost 20 years, the U.S. and its allies kept a military presence in Afghanistan, supporting a friendly government in Kabul and countering a Taliban insurgency and other terrorists infesting Afghanistan’s rugged terrain. In 2015, the Afghan military took over major combat responsibilities, while still relying on U.S. and allied forces, especially for vital air support. In April, 2021, President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces by September 11 and end America’s role in what he called a “forever war.”

Biden’s withdrawal turned into a rout. With critical American military support abruptly gone, the Taliban swept back to power. By the 20th anniversary of September 11, the Taliban—still harboring al Qaeda—
controlled more of Afghanistan than before the U.S. intervened, and were parading their plunder, flying their flag over the presidential palace and celebrating their defeat of the American superpower.

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