U.S. President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that the United States would withdraw its last active-duty troops from Afghanistan by September 11, which will mark the 20th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. After the U.S. and British troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, they quickly dislodged al-Qaeda from the country and toppled the Taliban government. As the U.S. occupation continued, Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump pledged to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, but neither succeeded. U.S. costs for the war now top $2 trillion, and more than 110,000 Afghans, along with 2,400 U.S. troops, have died in the conflict. As America’s longest war reaches nearly 20 years, why are American soldiers still in Afghanistan?

Anatol Lieven is a fellow at the Washington-based Quincy Institute. According to Lieven, the United States has stayed in the country largely out of fear that the U.S.-backed government in Kabul will collapse once U.S. troops leave—and that U.S. credibility will be significantly damaged when it does. America and its allies in the European Union and NATO committed to building a functioning and democratic Afghan state, so it will be an admission of failure to leave now, when that state still has little authority beyond Kabul and remains deeply corrupt, says Lieven, who spent time with the Afghan mujahideen in the late 1980s during their war against the Soviet Union, and who has returned to the country many times since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

Michael Bluhm: Why is the American military still in Afghanistan after all these years?

Anatol Lieven: What happened was that U.S. credibility, which Washington and, especially, the military are obsessed with, became involved with propping up the Kabul government.

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