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  • Stories from the Forever WarThe Afghanistan Archive
  • Paul Reyes

Afghanistan, archive, Kabul, Taliban, war, reporting

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By Louie Palu, Spring 2010

[End Page 8]

The last US service member to leave Afghanistan's soil after nearly twenty years of war did so just a minute shy of the midnight deadline on August 30. The gruesome chaos that unfolded in the days leading up to that departure, after the hasty withdrawal of US and NATO troops unleashed a rapid sweep of Taliban forces that recaptured the country in less than ten days, left many of us wondering what all the sacrifices of a twenty-year war had been for. The quickness with which the Taliban had regained control of the country and the deadly havoc at Kabul's airport in those final days—culminating in an attack by suicide bomber that killed thirteen American service members along with dozens of Afghans seeking to escape—created an eerily disorienting sense that Afghanistan's democratic infrastructure had been an illusion. Blood and sweat were invested in that cause, and a generation grew up under what it seemed to promise, despite the government's rampant corruption and dysfunction. But it didn't take long for a cold truth to seep into the larger conversation of how this had happened. Even before the last C-17 took off, soldiers and reporters alike were asking: What did we expect?

With the Taliban back in power, and ISIS-K launching attacks at will, Afghan citizens are in real danger, every day. The country's journalists, activists, scholars, along with everyday citizens who assisted the US and its allies—and Afghan girls and women especially—are at the mercy of a regime that professes to have matured in its practice of governing but fools no one about its proclivity for violence and oppression.

The Taliban's victory marks a closure that asks for deep reflection, looking honestly and intently at what has unfolded in the twenty years since the George W. Bush administration launched Operation Enduring Freedom with the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda. If for no other reason, looking back helps us take some measure of that mission and what followed. In the interest of creating a resource for this reflection, the editors have assembled an online archive of VQR's coverage of Afghanistan, from our reporting to photo essays to social-media nonfiction dispatches. Readers can find the archive by visiting our homepage or by going directly to

For more than a decade, this magazine has devoted considerable coverage to the war, its motives and costs and consequences both abroad as well as here at home. The approaches range from war reporting to more essayistic profiles and narratives; stories of soldiers wrestling with trauma; of Afghan refugees seeking safe harbor in Europe; of refugees who, having been rejected for asylum, find themselves returning to a home country they barely know.

In some ways, given the Taliban's presence in them, these pieces might be read as an archive of a notorious enemy. But they are [End Page 9] also, clearly, testimonials of resilience and solidarity—that and more, something closer to heartbreak or madness, since many of us—soldiers, journalists, photographers, readers, Afghans and Americans alike—sensed that the mission itself had become vague while being no less deadly, that the worst lessons of military history were coming back around, and would be just as bitter.

Selections from the Archive

Available at


In Kabul, one of the world's most dangerous cities, one man works to help Afghan migrants return to a place they never knew.

By May Jeong, Spring 2021


A #VQRTrueStory

By Rianna Pauline Starheim, Spring 2017


  1. I. Life in Sangin

  2. II. Danger and Death

  3. III. What We Know

By Elliott D. Woods, December 30, 2011


One Afghan Refugee's Quest to Recover the Past By Elliott D. Woods, Fall 2011


Afghans' best hope for their future might be right under their feet.

By Elliott D. Woods, Fall 2010



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pp. 8-11
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