The recent 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. decision in August to withdraw from Afghanistan has got me thinking about that country a lot the past few weeks. On the day of September 11, 2001, I was working as an editor in the newsroom at U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague. The subsequent war against the Taliban those terrorist attacks gave rise to took me to Afghanistan myself as a reporter a year later, in September 2002. As I watched the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal this past summer, I felt of flood of emotions. I felt anger and embarrassment at the apparently reckless way the U.S. ended its 20-year-long engagement, and sadness at seeing the loss of life among Afghan civilians and U.S. soldiers. I was also worried the U.S. military would once again get sucked into dubious drone warfare, where fleeting moments of satisfaction are always nullified by gut-wrenching civilian casualties. And I felt plenty of regret as well. I vividly remember the euphoria in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban in the initial phases of the war. The U.S. and its allies had tapped into an immense well of goodwill among ordinary Afghans; it was tragic to think this goodwill had now been squandered.
For this post, I’ll share memories from my month-long reporting trip to Afghanistan in the fall of 2002 (well before the Iraq war and the rest of it), when Afghans cheered on the collapse of the Taliban, and the (long-term) goal of a building a free and prosperous Afghanistan seemed achievable.