• 9/11: Twenty Years Later, Responders Still Paying a Heavy Price

    More than 91,000 responders were exposed to a range of hazards during recovery and clean-up operations, with 80,785 enrolling in the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) set up after the attacks. 3,439 are now dead – far more than the 412 who died on the day of the attacks – and many of those alive have been suffering from a series of ailments related to the work at the Twin Towers site.

  • Twenty Years after 9/11, Germany Still Struggling with Militant Islamists

    Twenty years ago, Islamist terror was still largely an unknown for German security authorities. Now, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has a newly established Islamist-Motivated Terrorism/Extremism Department. Around 500 criminal investigators, scientists, translators, and analysts work there to investigate Islamists, monitor dangerous individuals, and try to prevent attacks.

  • How the Taliban Exploited Afghanistan’s Human Geography

    The Taliban managed to seize power so quickly because it used Afghanistan’s human geography to exploit that state’s fragility: The country’s low population density empowers fast-moving and cohesive attackers, for which the poorly trained, disorganized, corrupt, and unmotivated Afghani army was no match. Alec Worsnop writes that, still, the evacuation could have been made safer and more orderly if a small Western contingent with air support would have been left behind to hold the Taliban at bay for a few more weeks — but this would only have delayed the inevitable: “Leaving a limited outside force in place, without significant reinforcement, could not have prevented an inevitable Taliban takeover within a matter of months,” he writes. “There were few prospects for long-term stability without a notably larger foreign troop presence.”

  • Calculating the Costs of the Afghanistan War in Lives, Dollars and Years

    The war in Afghanistan, like many other wars before it, began with optimistic assessments of a quick victory and the promise to rebuild at war’s end. President George W. Bush warned of a lengthy campaign, but few thought that would mean decades. Twenty years later, the U.S is still counting the costs: the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan lasted 7,262 days; 980,000 U.S. soldiers have served in Afghanistan; 2,455 U.S. service members were killed; 20,722 members of the U.S. military wounded in action; 46,000 civilians killed by all sides; the U.S. has spent $2.3 trillion so far; experts estimate that the future costs of medical and disability care for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between now and 2050 will likely be  about $2 trillion.

  • Afghanistan Always Defeats the West

    William Dalrymple, a Scottish historian and author of Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan 1839-42, writes that the West’s 20-year failed effort in Afghanistan was as inevitable as it was predictable for anyone with “a grasp of history”: In Afghanistan, there had been only the briefest of “moments of anything approaching a unified political system. Afghanistan has always been less a state than a kaleidoscope of competing tribal principalities governed through maliks or vakils, in each of which allegiance was entirely personal, to be negotiated and won over rather than taken for granted.”

  • Ahmad Massoud: ‘Peace Does Not Mean to Surrender’

    The Taliban is moving to consolidate its control over Afghanistan, but it has run into a problem: As happened before, the Panjshir Valley, northeast of Kabul, remains the only region of the country not under the Islamists’ control. In the valley, Ahmad Massoud has stepped into his famous father’s shoes by establishing himself as the leader of an emerging resistance movement against the Taliban.

  • Liberalism’s Graveyard: Afghanistan Is Where Ideologies Go to Die

    It used to be said the Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires.” Sumantra Maitra writes that the U.S. failed 20-year war in Afghanistan will go down as one of the more consequential wars –a “paradigm-shifting event” — because Afghanistan proved to be the graveyard of ideologies as well: “Evangelical Marxism failed in Afghanistan, as did evangelical liberalism.”

  • The Taliban May Have Captured the Biometric Data of Civilians Who Helped the U.S.

    In 2007, the United States military began using a small, handheld device – calledHandheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE) — to collect and match the iris, fingerprints, and facial scans of over 1.5 million Afghans against a database of biometric data.HIDE was initially developed by the U.S. government as a means to locate insurgents and other wanted individuals.HIDE, andits collected data,  are speculated to have been captured by the Taliban.There is a lesson here: If security and privacy cannot be ensured, then biometric data collection and use should not be deployed in conflict zones and crisis response.

  • Afghanistan: Who’s Who in the Taliban’s “Inclusive” New Administration

    It appears that the Taliban regime intends to completely revamp the structure of government when it formally embarks upon its administration from 1 September — for example, the Taliban plans to get rid of the position of the elected president, and, more importantly, it aims not to elevate or project a single individual to the position of supreme leader. One thing is not going to change: The individuals who are going to run the main government departments and security services are all hard-liners.

  • Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley: The Last Stronghold of Resistance to Taliban Rule

    Panjshir Valley, nearly 150km north of Kabul, is home to a largely ethnic Tajik population and through four decades of civil war and Taliban insurgency has been a center of resistance. Panjshir resisted the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and Taliban rule during the late 1990s. In the past 20 years, it was the only province that the predominantly ethnic Pashtun Taliban seemed unable to penetrate. The fate of Panjshir is consequential not only for anti-Taliban resistance forces but also for the stability and security of Afghanistan, the region and the west.

  • China’s Response to the Taliban’s Takeover

    “The primary interest for China in Afghanistan is ensuring stability so that no unrest would spill over into the wider region and China in particular. In this sense, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been a positive for China as it has played the security role at no cost to China. Now, China will have to develop its own relationships with the Taliban,” says Harvard’s China expert Tony Saich.

  • Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley Remains Out of Taliban's Reach

    The Panjshir Valley is Afghanistan’s last remaining holdout where anti-Taliban forces seem to be working on forming a guerrilla movement to take on the Islamic fundamentalist group.

  • Joe Biden's Disgrace and the Tragedy of Afghanistan

    Twenty years ago, Islamist terrorists, trained under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, attacked the United States, killing nearly 3,000. The Biden administration is withdrawing all American forces from Afghanistan, and the country will again be ruled by the Taliban. This withdrawal was unnecessary.

  • Learning the Right Lessons from Afghanistan

    Gregory Treverton, former Chair of U.S. National Intelligence Council, writes that “The main lesson of Afghanistan should be an easy one by now, after the sweep of events from Vietnam to Iraq: nation-building requires a nation, or at least a competent, committed government. America’s signal successes at nation-building were nation-rebuilding, in the instances of Germany and Japan. It is not just that nation-building is hard, and we don’t do it very well. In Afghanistan there was never any nation to rebuild, only a collection of warring tribes, clans, and sects.”

  • Afghan troops sought safety in numbers – igniting a cascade of surrender

    Throughout the conflict, the perennial emphasis on a U.S.“exit strategy” meant U.S. politicians always focused on whether it was time to leave yet. For 20 years, U.S. efforts focused on short-term thinking and problem-solving that shifted both military and political goals over time, rather than investing the time and effort to develop a comprehensive long-term strategy for the war.