As Americans mark the anniversary of 9/11, the war that was launched in response to those attacks shows no sign of ending.
Seventeen years later, American troops are still fighting and dying, civilian casualties are at record highs, and the Taliban now controls more territory than at any point since 2001.
Earlier this month, a new American general took control of the effort — the ninth change of command in what is now the longest war the United States has ever fought.
Outgoing U.S. commander General John Nicholson had a simple message as he handed over reigns to his successor after being in command for the last two years: “It’s time for the war in Afghanistan to end.”
But how the war might actually end remains anyone’s guess. The Trump administration appears to be looking for way to get out — and pinning its hopes on encouraging peace talks between the two sides. In July, a high-level State Department official met with Taliban leaders at their headquarters in Doha, the militants said, to encourage them to come to the table.
“Nearly all of these conflicts won’t be solved militarily, the military aspect of it has to apply pressure, has to get people to the table and ultimately its a political solution that’s got to take hold here,” General Joseph Votel, commander of United States Central Command, told VICE News.
Votel pushed back against critics who view negotiating with the Taliban as some sort of defeat.
“I don’t look at it that way,” Votel said. “That’s what the object of the strategy is, it’s to get that reconciliation and reconciliation can only be done by talking — so we’ve got to get to that. I don’t see that as a defeat at all.”
But for the moment, the Taliban don’t seem very interested in reconciliation.
Four weeks ago, fighters scored their biggest victory in years, overrunning the city of Ghazni, less than a hundred miles from Kabul, and killing dozens of Afghan soldiers and police officers in the process.