Looking back, the war against terrorism was designed to be a forever war. Two months after George Bush launched the global “war on terror,” the United States–led coalition had wrested control of most of the country of Afghanistan from the Taliban government, and had killed a top al-Qaeda military commander in a bombing raid. Not long after, hundreds of Taliban soldiers across Afghanistan laid down their weapons, and their leader Mullah Omar agreed to surrender the group’s stronghold Kandahar to the local tribes. The Taliban had effectively handed the country to America. Yet none of this appeased Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He rejected the capitulation and called a “negotiated end” to the conflict “unacceptable to the United States.”
Over the next 20 years, the U.S. would go on to spend nearly a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, over 2,400 American forces would die, and some 20,600 others would come home injured. More than 66,000 Afghan military and police would be killed, and countless more civilians would be dead. The U.S. will leave Afghanistan this year, with no certainty that the Taliban, which has been advancing across the country, won’t seize Kabul once again.