The U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history, lasting 20 years. In the conflict’s second decade, plans for an exit of U.S. forces from the country were repeatedly put off, but President Joe Biden finally withdrew most of them ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for a full pullout, and NATO-led allied troops followed suit. The drawdown of foreign forces corresponded with battlefield advances by the Taliban, the strict Islamic fundamentalists who ruled the country before the U.S. invasion. That raised questions about whether improvements in human rights since their ouster, particularly for women, would survive the U.S. departure.
The U.S. has encouraged the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to reach an agreement over the country’s political future that would end fighting, but peace talks that began in 2020 have faltered. By mid-July, the Taliban had seized control of more than 200 district centers in Afghanistan, about half of 419 in the country. The Afghan military, which receives training and advice from the U.S. and its allies, has been hampered by insufficient air power and heavy combat losses and desertions. In early August, Ghani’s office said the president, in an effort to prevent the Taliban from overrunning his administration in the capital, Kabul, had decided to cooperate with the country’s warlords, armed power brokers whose rivalries created the multi-front civil war that preceded the Taliban’s takeover in 1996.