Opinion | The U.S. Needs to Return to Afghanistan – The New York Times

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It’s striking how much Afghanistan, which has the unfortunate legacy of being the site of America’s longest war, has all but disappeared from public discussion in the United States. But perhaps it’s understandable. After all, there always seems to be another conflict, another war — which, as it happens, is also Afghanistan’s history.

Since 1979, Afghans have lived in almost perpetual conflict. Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes or their country. Foreign interventions have come and gone, ending in failure, leaving Afghans and their neighbors to live with the consequences.

Today, America’s longest war is over. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul sits empty, a daily reminder of how America has sought to isolate Afghanistan since the U.S. military’s withdrawal in 2021. Washington has done so in an effort to pressure the ruling Taliban to moderate its views, including committing to women’s rights, expanding the government to non-Taliban members and addressing human rights abuses.

That tactic backfired the first time the group was in power. And vacant Western embassies aren’t going to get girls back to school or increase women’s participation in the work force. Instead, isolating the Taliban has served only to isolate Afghans, leaving many of them feeling alone and, worse, helpless.

It’s time to accept that past policies have failed and that the United States and its allies must change course and commit to greater engagement, which would in turn bring a better understanding of the realities in Afghanistan. Along with the large amount of humanitarian aid Washington provides, it’s time for America to return to Afghanistan and the 40 million people who live there. Washington should reopen its embassy in Kabul and commit to engaging with Afghans across society. Afghans need to know that the United States and others are there and that they can be depended upon.

As a journalist who worked in Afghanistan for decades, I have seen the country through its many wars and witnessed the results of successive failed policies. I watched as so many nations and international organizations scrambled to evacuate some of the country’s brightest and best-educated people. I watched the last U.S. aircraft fly out of the Kabul airport in 2021, bringing a frantic end to the war and ushering in the Taliban’s return to power.

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