The end of America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan could be seen as a play in three acts. On 8 July, as Joe Biden pushed on with his rapid withdrawal of US troops after 20 years in the country, he declared that the prospect of “the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely”.
By 15 August, that prospect was not only likely – it was fact. Kabul fell to the Taliban as the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Meanwhile, the US, UK and other Western nations scrambled to evacuate their citizens and soldiers from an airport that had just suspended all commercial flights.
Chaos reigned as desperate Afghans, rightly fearful of being abandoned by the very nations that had promised to help them, surrounded the airport. A desperate few even clung to departing flights, more afraid of Afghanistan’s new reality on the ground than they were of almost certain death in the sky. (They never made it out of the country.)
On 30 August, the US completed its evacuation of troops and diplomats. The following day, in a televised address to Americans, Biden remained defiant in the face of global criticism, hailing the withdrawal an “extraordinary success”. Mission accomplished.
Yet while the curtains closed on the US’s war in Afghanistan, for the 40 million people left in the country, the stage was set for brutal Taliban rule. In spite of assurances to the contrary, millions of girls have been barred from secondary education; deadly attacks by Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K) militants have surged; and, as sanctions continue to bite, Afghans have been plunged into poverty, with nearly 23 million now facing starvation. It’s an ongoing tragedy with no end in sight.
Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.