Bagram Airbase mountains and buildings in Afghanistan 011118 CREDIT US AIR FORCE
Afghanistan

When Will The Afghanistan War Truly Be Over?

Military personnel are withdrawing from Afghanistan after two decades in the country.

Bagram Airbase mountains and buildings in Afghanistan 011118 CREDIT US AIR FORCE

Military personnel are withdrawing from Afghanistan after two decades in the country.

When the withdrawal is complete, does it mean the war there is really over?

An emboldened Taliban insurgency is making battlefield gains, and prospective peace talks are stalled.

Some fear that once foreign forces are gone, Afghanistan will dive deeper into civil war.

Although degraded, an Afghan affiliate of the so-called Islamic State (IS) extremist network also lurks.

For the United States and its coalition partners, the endgame is murky.

Although troops and 20 years of accumulated war materiel will soon be gone, the head of US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, will have authority until September to defend Afghan forces against the Taliban.

He can do so by ordering strikes with American warplanes based outside of Afghanistan, according to defence officials.

All American and NATO troops have left Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years.

What is left of the mission in Afghanistan?

Although the ground combat mission ended in 2014, counter-terrorism troops have been pursuing and hitting extremists since then, including with Afghanistan-based aircraft.

Those strike aircraft are now gone and those strikes, along with any logistical support for Afghan forces, will be done from outside the country.

After first deploying to Afghanistan in 2001, British personnel have been there since 2014 in non-combat capacities, contributing to NATO's Resolute Support Mission, known as Operation Toral, including in security, emergency response and training roles.

A US security contingent of 650 troops, based at the US Embassy compound, will protect American diplomats and potentially help secure Kabul international airport.

Gen McKenzie will have the authority to keep as many as 300 more troops to assist that mission until September.

Watch: What's happened in Afghanistan since 2001?

When he decided in April to bring the US war in Afghanistan to a close, President Joe Biden gave the Pentagon until 11 September to complete the withdrawal, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

NATO and the UK followed suit and set similar goals to leave the country.

Next steps?

Lately, violence in Afghanistan has escalated. Taliban attacks on Afghan forces and civilians have intensified, with reports saying the group has taken control of more than 100 district centres.

Pentagon leaders have said there is a "medium" risk that the Afghan government and its security forces collapse within the next two years, if not sooner.

US leaders insist the only path to peace in Afghanistan is through a negotiated settlement.

The Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that said the US would withdraw its troops by May 2021 in exchange for Taliban promises, including that they keep Afghanistan from again being a staging arena for attacks on America.

US officials say the Taliban are not fully adhering to their part of the bargain, even as the US continues its final troop withdrawal.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan

The Nato Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces began in 2015 when the US-led combat mission was declared over.

At that point, the Afghans assumed full responsibility for their security, yet they remained dependent on billions of dollars a year in US aid.

At the peak of the war, there were more than 130,000 troops in Afghanistan from 50 NATO nations and partner countries.

That decreased to about 10,000 troops from 36 nations from the US-led mission, with most nations now having withdrawn their personnel.

Some may see the war ending when NATO's mission is declared over. But that may not happen for months.

According to officials, Turkey is negotiating a new bilateral agreement with Afghan leaders in order to remain at the airport to provide security.

Until that agreement is completed, the legal authorities for Turkish troops staying in Afghanistan are under the auspices of the Resolute Support Mission.