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How long have US Troops been in Afghanistan?

With the end of the 'forever war' looming, we take a look at US's longest military engagement.

US soldiers scramble to avoid the landing zone of a Chinook helicopter
David FurstAFP

Why are US troops leaving now?

US representatives in former President Donald Trump's administration signed the Doha agreement on February 29 2020 with the Taliban. The US and its NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants upheld the deal. Despite attempts by the House to prevent the President from unilaterally pulling soldiers out, President Biden confirmed the withdrawal in April 2021.

Initially all troops were supposed to have left the country by May 1 2021, but the Biden administration has prolonged the withdrawal, with the final date being August 31 2020. In violation of the Doha agreement, the US military is expected to retain some 1,000 soldiers in Kabul, to defend the international airport and US embassy.

And the withdrawal has been accelerated in recent days as it was alleged by Afghan commanders that Bagram airfield, the US military's most important base in the country, was scuttled overnight without warning.

Parked cars in Bagram airbase after the Afghan commander alleged the US military abandoned its key base in the country in secret on July 2.
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Parked cars in Bagram airbase after the Afghan commander alleged the US military abandoned its key base in the country in secret on July 2.Mohammad IsmailReuters

In the White House Press briefing of July 8 2021, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "there is not benefit, in our view, in continuing to fight this war militarily."

And this explains the reason for the withdrawal that both the Trump and Biden administrations could agree on: the war is a tax on resources and a tax in which there will be no reward whether US troops remain or leave. It will just be more US soldiers lost in a war with no gain.

The Taliban have not been defeated and far from it. The organisation has been stepping up attacks in preparation for the US withdrawal and there are reports that they have made serious gains across the country.

Why have the soldiers not left sooner?

For a long time US policy was that the war was militarily winnable.

Despite a high-water mark of 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, in 2011 during the Obama administration, the number combat forces was reduced in 2014 to around 10,000. This coincided with the withdrawal of other NATO soldiers, with close ally Great Britain's soldiers departing in 2014.

Since then, a military victory has looked further and further away.

And although there was an growth of troops to 14,000 during the Trump presidency, the signing of the Doha agreement set in motion the plan to remove all US and NATO troops.

So how long has the US been fighting in Afghanistan?

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, former President George Bush demanded that Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban, surrender the head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, who as hiding in the country. When this was declined, the US invaded on 7 October 2001 and has been embroiled in the war ever since.

Between this date and the August 31 2021 deadline, the war will have been waged for close to twenty years. In comparison, US involvement in the Second World War and Vietnam was under four years and eleven years respectively, making it the longest war in the country's history.

What next for Afghanistan?

With the final departure of coalition troops, the Afghan military has been left to fight the Taliban alone. Based on recent reports of mass desertions by Afghan soldiers, as well as a general Taliban advance across the country, there are fears that the Taliban will once again have power in Afghanistan.

President Biden denied that a Taliban takeover is "inevitable," saying that the 300,000 strong Afghan security forces were fully capable of dealing with the Taliban.

And US Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the US had "achieved... exactly what we intended to do."

Whatever this achievement means for the Afghan people will be determined over the coming months.


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