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A mural in Kabul, Afghanistan, depicting Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation. Credit Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

When Joe Biden assumed the presidency in January, he embarked on a mission to reverse a slew of policies put in place by former President Donald Trump while leaving untouched the elite foreign policy consensus. Mr. Biden issued 42 executive orders in his first 100 days — more than than any other president since Franklin D. Roosevelt — and has waged a methodical campaign against Mr. Trump’s agenda. With one major exception: Afghanistan.

Beginning with his campaign for the presidency, Mr. Trump railed against America’s forever wars and pledged to bring American troops home and to get out of Afghanistan. Despite his rhetoric, Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of a Taliban Red Unit in the Alingar District of Laghman, Afghanistan, last year. Credit Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

This past week saw a spate of violence as the Biden administration began its withdrawal from Afghanistan. On Friday, a truck laden with explosives detonated south of Kabul, killing 27. On Saturday, a professor at Kabul University was fatally shot, and that same day Kandahar airfield came under rocket attack.

Last month, when President Biden first announced the withdrawal, I was having lunch with the Afghan ambassador to the United States, Roya Rahmani. I fought in Afghanistan and over the past couple of years Ambassador Rahmani and I have become friends, periodically catching up over a meal.

Her phone was ringing as we stepped into the dining room at her residence in Washington.…  Seguir leyendo »

United States troops in Helmand province, Afghanistan. A complete withdrawal, based on an arbitrary deadline rather than conditions on the ground, threatens America’s long-term national security. Credit Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Last month, President Biden announced a complete withdrawal of all United States troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the day terrorists killed almost 3,000 Americans.

Many in the defense and intelligence communities oppose the move. A complete withdrawal based on an arbitrary deadline, rather than conditions on the ground, threatens our long-term national security. After all, it was the decision to rapidly pull out of Iraq, creating a power vacuum that allowed the Islamic State to grow, that ultimately forced our return to Iraq, prolonging the war.

We cannot allow history to repeat itself.

It’s foolish to think the Taliban will engage in good faith with the Afghan government or abide by the commitments made to the previous administration after we’ve departed.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the end the lies about the US-led war in Afghanistan were bookended with -- even dominated by -- basic truths.

The lies themselves were not malicious -- more the deceit needed for survival. The things America had to tell itself to keep going. The truths were self-evident: that Osama Bin Laden had been given shelter by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and was behind 9/11. And in the end, there was another, which it took a man with wisdom accumulated over 78 years to finally admit. "No one wants to say that we should be in Afghanistan forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave," said President Joe Biden as he announced that he was overruling his advisers and would withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 of this year.…  Seguir leyendo »

Among the memorabilia of my time as foreign secretary are several chess sets, each of which brings back some aspect of the country it came from. One was a gift from the Russian government that I was advised not to use until checks had been made to ensure it wasn’t transmitting my conversations back to Moscow. Those little chess figures were innocent, but they always remind me that Russia has more dangerous pawns elsewhere.

My favourite, however, is the set I bought in Afghanistan, its meticulously carved pieces recalling the rich culture, history and diversity of a misunderstood land. And if you clattered across its skies in military helicopters, as I did many times, you could see at once how geography had dictated that diversity — vast deserts and mountain ranges with hill villages perched beyond the reach of conquerors or centralised authority.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Biden will have to stand fast to the rigorous logic he employed last week, putting long-term consequences ahead of immediate fears’ Photograph: Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images

Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced he would withdraw all US ground troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the two-decade anniversary of the attacks that brought on the war. Then he visited the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery. A reporter asked him whether his decision was hard to make. “No, it wasn’t,” Biden replied. “To me, it was absolutely clear.”

Biden’s clarity shone through in the reasons he gave for terminating the mission in Afghanistan. Criticizing the grandiose and ill-defined objectives pursued by his successors, Biden refused to order US soldiers to engage any longer in a mission they could not achieve.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Tony Blair sent Clare Short to eliminate the poppy crop. Whatever she did, it increased production from six provinces to 28.’ Poppy growing in Helmand, 22 March 2021. Photograph: Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA

The longest, most pointless and unsuccessful war that Britain has fought in the past 70 years – its intervention in Afghanistan – is to end in September. I doubt anyone will notice. Nations celebrate victories, not defeats.

Twenty years ago the United States decided to relieve its 9/11 agony not just by blasting Osama bin Laden’s base in the Afghan mountains, but by toppling the entire Afghan regime. This was despite young Taliban moderates declaring Bin Laden an “unwelcome guest” and the regime demanding he leave. The US then decided not just to blast Kabul but invited Nato to launder its action as a matter of global security.…  Seguir leyendo »

A U.S. soldier of 2-12 Infantry 4BCT-4ID Task Force Mountain Warrior takes a break during a night mission near Honaker Miracle camp at the Pesh valley of Kunar Province August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

What’s new in the Biden announcement that the U.S. will withdraw all troops by 11 September? Why was the announcement made now?

President Joe Biden’s televised remarks on 14 April were the first clear statement of his decision to end U.S. military involvement in the war in Afghanistan. They also marked the first time that he has conveyed that the U.S. will – almost – stick to the withdrawal timeline the Trump administration agreed upon with the Taliban. Biden made clear that the U.S. would miss the 1 May deadline set out in the U.S.-Taliban agreement reached in February 2020, but that it would “begin” withdrawing on that date, and then complete its withdrawal by 11 September.…  Seguir leyendo »

I Fought in Afghanistan. I Still Wonder, Was It Worth It?

When President Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, he appeared to be finally bringing this “forever war” to an end. Although I have waited for this moment for a decade, it is impossible to feel relief. The Sept. 11 attacks took place during my senior year of college, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed consumed the entirety of my adult life. Although history books may mark this as the end of the Afghanistan war, it will never be over for many of my generation who fought.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Afghan War Is Over

I first read “The Iliad” in high school. The translation my teacher handed out had a single photograph on the cover: American G.I.s on D-Day storming out of a landing craft onto Omaha Beach.

The subtext of this pairing wasn’t obvious to me, as a teenager. The rage of Achilles, the death of Hector and all those Greeks in their “black-hulled ships” seemed to have little to do with the Second World War.

Many years later, after having fought in two wars of my own, that image has come to resonate in a new way. If “The Iliad” served as an ur-text for the shape the ancient Greeks assumed their wars to take (Alexander the Great, for example, is said to have slept with a copy beneath his pillow when on campaign), then World War II has served a similar function in our society, framing our expectations of war, becoming our American Iliad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Zalmay Khalilzad, left, an American negotiator, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy leader of the Taliban, during the signing ceremony of the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement on Saturday.Credit...EPA, via Shutterstock

Sometimes, foreign policy consists of trying to make lemonade out of lemons.

In the case of the recently signed U.S.-Taliban agreement on Afghanistan, President Trump provided the lemons, and the lead U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team did the squeezing. Mr. Trump made clear that he intended to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan — with or without a “deal.” Then NATO partners pressured the United States not to reward the Taliban by conceding their long-held objective of forcing an American withdrawal for free. So, the president reportedly gave his negotiators a finite window to explore whether some deal was achievable.…  Seguir leyendo »

Representatives led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (Front C) leave after a meeting chaired by Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, marking a century of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Russia on May 30, 2019 in Moscow, Russia on the th Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency

What just happened in talks between the U.S. and the Taliban?

A critical milestone in efforts to end the Afghan conflict was reached on 21 February, when Taliban and U.S. representatives issued statements confirming that they had reached an agreement providing for gradual U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, in exchange for Taliban promises to sever ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and to enter intra-Afghan negotiations to resolve the world’s deadliest conflict. The statements explained that the U.S. and Taliban would sign the agreement on 29 February in Doha, Qatar – where negotiations have been conducted for over a year – contingent on the successful completion of a seven-day period of “reduction in violence”, which is meant to begin on 22 February.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man waving an Afghan flag during an Independence Day celebration in Kabul in 2019.Credit...Rafiq Maqbool/Associated Press

When our representatives started negotiating with the United States in 2018, our confidence that the talks would yield results was close to zero. We did not trust American intentions after 18 years of war and several previous attempts at negotiation that had proved futile.

Nevertheless, we decided to try once more. The long war has exacted a terrible cost from everyone. We thought it unwise to dismiss any potential opportunity for peace no matter how meager the prospects of its success. For more than four decades, precious Afghan lives have been lost every day. Everyone has lost somebody they loved. Everyone is tired of war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Taliban militants laid down their arms in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, this month to join the peace process.Credit...Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA, via Shutterstock

The talks between the United States and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which were abruptly canceled by President Trump in September, are back on track. After several months of diplomatic regrouping, American and Taliban negotiators are once again on the verge of sealing a deal.

The negotiators haven’t revised the basic transaction they set out last August — an American commitment to withdraw troops from Afghanistan for a Taliban promise not to allow the country to be used by transnational terrorists. Rather, they have added sweeteners to the bargain: As a Taliban concession, a seven-day “reduction in violence” before the United States will sign the deal, possibly followed by further steps to keep violence down, and the release of prisoners demanded by the insurgents.…  Seguir leyendo »

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani (C) talks with US special representative for Afghan Peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (top L) during a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Kabul. Handout / Afghan Presidential Palace / AFP

How significant were the U.S.-Taliban talks?

Last week’s six-day talks between the U.S. and Taliban were the clearest sign yet that the U.S. is intent on withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan, and that the Taliban and its regional allies perceive that intent as an opportunity. It is early to draw conclusions but the signals from Doha inspire optimism about ending America’s longest war. A U.S. and NATO troop withdrawal has long been the Taliban’s top demand and the driving rationale for the insurgency. The Doha talks also were the first time that the U.S. has publicly acceded to the Taliban’s insistence that bilateral negotiations on terms for a troop withdrawal precede any peace negotiations involving other Afghans.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Real Lesson of Sept. 11

It has taken me a while to realize something.

Seventeen years ago, I saw a picture of Mohamed Atta for the first time, and my blood boiled from the sound of his voice emanating from the television, as he said over the airplane’s intercom system: “We have some planes, just stay quiet and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.” Instead, he crashed it between the 93rd and 99th floors of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

My 23-year-old brother, James, was on the 102nd floor.

Staring at that picture of Atta, I would have visions of what my brother’s final moments were like.…  Seguir leyendo »

Marines and Afghan National Army personnel during a handover ceremony in the Afghan province of Helmand in April. Credit Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Press, Getty Images

President Trump has no easy options in Afghanistan. An abrupt United States military exit would probably provoke the collapse of an Afghan state deeply dependent on American backing, while a major reinforcement — a reprise of the Obama administration’s initial approach — would be tough to support given that it didn’t work last time.

The modest increase of a few thousand troops widely reported to be under consideration promises to do little more than buy time by arresting the downward security slide.

President Barack Obama conducted a “surge” of American military resources in Afghanistan in a bid to turn the corner on the war.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan

Remember Afghanistan? The longest war in American history? Ever?

When it comes to wars, we Americans have a selective memory. The Afghan war, dating from October 2001, has earned the distinction of having been forgotten while still underway.

President Trump’s Inaugural Address included no mention of Afghanistan. Nor did his remarks last month at a joint session of Congress. For the new commander in chief, the war there qualifies at best as an afterthought — assuming, that is, he has thought about it all.

A similar attitude prevails on Capitol Hill. Congressional oversight has become pro forma. Last week Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

John Walker Lindh, in a photo taken while he was studying at a madrasa in Pakistan, before he joined the Afghan Army in 2001. Associated Press

I explained that the country was badly governed, and I felt the rebels would have provided wiser leadership and free elections. Mr. MacKnight reminded me of the assassination plot. It was obvious to the State Department, and to me, that I was in way over my head.

Within a few weeks I was back in Africa, in Uganda, with a teaching position at Makerere University, as a reward from the exiled Malawians there for my having played a part in their cause. In the event, Mr. Banda ruled Malawi for three decades longer and died peacefully at the age of 99.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan's reformist new president, has asked the Obama administration to keep more U.S. forces in Afghanistan longer. Above, an Afghan soldier. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP/Getty Images)

Imagine President Franklin Roosevelt announcing at the end of 1944, after the liberation of France but before the final defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that World War II was over and that U.S. forces were ending combat operations. Instead we would support our allies, from Britain to China, in their fight against the Axis powers.

Hard to imagine, but that's roughly what happened Sunday when the International Security Assistance Command held a ceremony in Kabul to mark the “end” of the war in Afghanistan. “The longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,” President Obama trumpeted in a statement from Hawaii, where he is vacationing.…  Seguir leyendo »