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A Look At The Timeline Of The War In Afghanistan

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, who covered the beginning of the U.S. war in Afghanistan two decades ago. He's here now to speak with us about the apparent end. Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: As we just heard, the U.S. has been forced to cooperate with the Taliban as Americans carry out this airlift. Do you foresee any kind of relationship after that master sergeant and his colleagues get on that last plane out of Kabul?

MYRE: Yeah. I mean, this relationship we wouldn't have even been imagining a couple weeks ago, and now it would certainly seem possible that it is going to continue beyond this very focused, cooperative effort at the airport. President Biden has said publicly that the U.S. will keep trying to get any remaining U.S. citizens or allied Afghans out after the U.S. leaves. The Taliban has made it very clear they want international recognition and assistance. It's calling for countries, Western countries, to keep their embassies open - even the U.S. Now, the U.S. hasn't said whether it will do that or not. But again, it's pointing toward some sort of relationship. They also have to worry about a humanitarian crisis that could develop in the coming days, weeks. The U.S. would almost certainly be involved in that as well. So, yes, it seems quite possible.

SIMON: U.S. military reports that it carried out a drone strike against ISIS-K, the group blamed for the airport bombing. What is the capacity of the U.S. military, though, to carry out ongoing operations while packing up to leave and certainly thereafter?

MYRE: Right, so it's already been greatly reduced just in terms of U.S. military capacity. The Afghan military and intelligence services collapsed. And again, this was just one small strike against a small, elusive group. They don't have a base. They don't have territory. So a strike against them sends a message, but it certainly doesn't cripple them. And this group, ISIS-K, has carried out many deadly attacks in the past year, the past couple years. And the U.S. and the Afghan military couldn't stop the attacks when they were working together and had a much larger presence. So it's going to be much more difficult. The U.S. talks about this over-the-horizon ability, but that's likely to be very limited.

SIMON: I think we both have vivid memories of the streets of Kabul in 2001 when the Taliban had just been driven out. And there's a contrast to what we're seeing now, isn't there?

MYRE: Oh, unbelievable. I mean, there was real joy in the streets at that time. People were playing music, which they hadn't been allowed to do under the Taliban. Afghans wanted to tell you their story, talk about how unbearable life had been under the Taliban.

You knew that mood wasn't going to last. This is a terribly poor country, very divided, no clear way to build an economy or have a stable political system. But it did seem that dark chapter was over. The country had already been at war for more than 20 years at that point, and Afghans seemed really desperate for the fighting to end. And it wasn't going to be a smooth-running, modern country overnight, but it did seem that some sort of normal life was a realistic possibility.

SIMON: What does it look like in the future?

MYRE: Well, you know, just imagine the Kabul airport after the U.S. leaves. This airport, which has been such the focus of attention, could really go quiet on Wednesday if the U.S. and its partners are gone. The Taliban will be in control. But do they have pilots or crews or maintenance workers that could even make that airport function? The Taliban hasn't set up a government or made pronouncements about how it plans to rule. It's got to manage an economy and avert a humanitarian crisis. And on top of all that, we may not really see what's going on inside Afghanistan. The Western media's leaving. Many Afghan journalists have left. So it's not clear what we'll be able to see after Tuesday.

SIMON: NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thanks so much, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.