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When the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, Afghanistan was under a brutal theocratic government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (better known as the Taliban), which was engaging in some activities that were quite unpopular in the rest of the world, such as blowing up the Buddhas of Bamyan — 1,400-year-old Buddha statues — on the grounds that they were idols, and stoning adulterous couples.
U.S., British, and German investigations all pointed to Osama bin Laden as the culprit behind 9/11. Osama being based in Afghanistan at that time — or perhaps Pakistan, but even the Taliban did not seem to be able to tell the difference — the U.S. contacted the Taliban and demanded that bin Laden be handed over. The Taliban refused, citing "Islamic hospitality requirements." The U.S. invaded, toppled the Taliban, and set up a slightly more moderate government headed by Hamid Karzai. It took 10 years after that for the U.S. to track down Osama, whom they eventually found in Pakistan; in the interim, in 2004, he made so bold as to claim responsibility for 9/11.
Afghanistan's government has to date shown itself rather incompetent in running the country, with the Taliban and other insurgents engaging in a guerrilla war from bases in the remote mountainous regions of neighboring Pakistan. After the end of George W. Bush's second term as president, Barack Obama inherited the war, and the United States and NATO made a major forward step when American forces killed Osama bin Laden in mid-2011. 
On December 20, 2010, vice president Joe Biden announced that the United States was "going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014." As is obvious now, he didn't actually mean that. Starting in 2015, troops stationed in Afghanistan will be reduced to around 10,000, and it is expected that only "a small residual force" will remain at the end of Obama's term.
Previous fiascos in the region
- The Soviet Union embroiled itself in a decade-long war (1979-1989) there, which is often considered the Soviet equivalent of Vietnam. (See Soviet-Afghanistan War).
- The United Kingdom wasted much 19th-century blood and gold there.
- Genghis Khan stopped by for a brief sojourn at one point (1219). And how did he end up winning against the Afghans, you ask? By mercilessly slaughtering every single individual in cities that refused to surrender.
- Freshly Islamized Arabians made a holy war to convert Afghanistan (7th century CE). It took them over 200 years to finish the job.
The moral of the story
Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Also the only country to successfully control Afghanistan is India. India as of late has been bankrolling and carrying out training of the Afgan Army to act as a counter to the Taliban and their ally Pakistan. In reality the current war in Afghanistan is a proxy war between India and Pakistan.
- 5 harsh truths about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington Post
- This is What Winning Looks Like Vice News
- Rethink Afghanistan A group named after the film Rethink Afghanistan.
- Explosions Tear at Afghan Buddha Statues, National Geographic
- Brutal video of girl stoned to death with her lover by the Taliban
- Face to Face With the Taliban
- Jihadi theorist Abu Musab al-Suri, a member of al-Qaeda's inner council, bemoaning the losses suffered by al Qaeda rightly discerned that "the American attack on Afghanistan was not really aimed at capturing or killing bin Laden; its true goal was to sweep away the Taliban and eliminate the rule of Islamic law." The Master Plan: For the new theorists of jihad, Al Qaeda is just the beginning. Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 11, 2006.
- US to keep 9,800 Afghanistan troops after 2014, BBC
- See the Wikipedia article on The Great Game.
- See the Wikipedia article on Genghis Khan.