As the last U.S. combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, the question arises: When is the war really over? For Afghans the answer is clear but grim: no time soon. An emboldened Taliban insurgency is making battlefield gains, and prospective peace talks are stalled. Some fear that once foreign forces are gone, Afghanistan will dive deeper into civil war. Though degraded, an Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State extremist network also lurks.
For the United States and its coalition partners, the endgame is murky. Although all combat troops and 20 years of accumulated war materiel will soon be gone, the head of U.S Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, will have authority until September to defend Afghan forces against the Taliban. He can do so by ordering strikes with U.S. warplanes based outside of Afghanistan, according to defense officials who discussed details of military planning Thursday on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials said Friday that the U.S. military has left Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. The facility was the epicenter of the war to oust the Taliban and hunt down the al Qaida perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Two officials say the airfield was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense Force in its entirety.