Is the neo-Taliban next for Afghanistan?
I shouted the text of my latest story about the invasion from a Palm Pilot into a balky Iridium satellite phone. It was at least my third attempt, and the battery was dying. A Village Voice employee assigned to take dictation on the other side of the world interrupted me.
"I don't understand," she said, irritated. "Why don't you just go to Kinko's and email it to us?"
I stood shin-deep in the pitch dark of a muddy rut in northeastern Afghanistan and scanned pockmarked mud-brick walls. I was on a street, but it was 2001, so there wasn't any pavement. There were buildings but no lights because decades of civil war had left the nation without an electrical grid. There were no bridges that hadn't been blown up, no phone lines, no sewers. There was no water.
Motorized transport belonged to the privileged: NGOs, warlords, invading armies and journalists like me. People wanted me to take their picture, not to be photographed but to see themselves in my camera's viewfinder for their first time in their lives. There weren't any mirrors.
Minus a central bank, rival warlords printed banknotes from identical plates with ink of varying color. Most people preferred barter.
Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion was the 14th century plus mines and AK-47s.
The land of the Taliban was bleak and desolate. After America bombed them out of Kabul after 9/11, they fled into the dusty countryside and rugged mountains that became staging grounds for attacks against U.S. and NATO forces for more than 18 years. Thousands of Americans and tens of Afghans lost their lives in a war that, in a poignant echo of Vietnam, lost its purpose. "What were we trying to do here?" Gen. Douglas Lute, who led U.S. forces under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, recalled asking. "We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking."
On Feb. 29 of this year, the U.S. tacitly conceded defeat. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban signed a deal as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the ceremony in Doha.
They called it a peace agreement. But it didn't guarantee that fighting would stop (and it hasn't), only that the U.S. will withdraw within 14 months.