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14 Documentaries Explore the Two-Decade Afghan War and Its Impact

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The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, in a bid to destroy Al Qaeda and oust its ruling ally, the Taliban. Explore 14 documentaries from FRONTLINE’s coverage of what became America’s longest war.

JULY 19, 2021

Nearly two decades after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began, President Joe Biden said in July that U.S. troops would leave the country by August 31, 2021, updating his earlier deadline of September.

What the U.S. is leaving behind, the FRONTLINE special report Leaving Afghanistan suggests, is a country that may be on the verge of a deadly sectarian civil war, with the Taliban on the rise and Iran seeking to expand its influence.

“It’s worse than the past. It’s worse than what I’ve seen in my life,” says acclaimed Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi, correspondent for the report premiering Tuesday, July 20. Quraishi has covered the war between the Taliban and the American-led coalition since its inception. “I can see a civil war in Afghanistan again,” he says.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, in a bid to destroy Al Qaeda — the terrorist organization behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — and oust its ruling ally, the Taliban, which had rejected U.S. demands to hand over Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In 2020, after more than 18 years, a civilian death toll reportedly in the tens of thousands, and the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops, the Trump administration negotiated a deal with the resurgent Taliban that set a May 1, 2021, date for a withdrawal of U.S. forces. President Biden said in April the “final withdrawal” would begin on that date and the U.S. would pull out fully “before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11th.” 

“As I said in April, the United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United State,” Biden said in July. “We achieved those objectives. That’s why we went. We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”

As the U.S. has wound down its military involvement in the conflict, Afghan civilians have continued to bear the stark toll of ongoing violence. “The number of civilians killed and injured during the first three months of 2021” was “significantly higher” than in the same period last year, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported in April.

FRONTLINE has been covering what has become America’s longest war since the beginning, including reporting on realities on the ground last year, as the Taliban once again wielded power and the threat from ISIS also loomed. Watch these 14 streaming documentaries to explore how the war in Afghanistan began, how it evolved, what it has meant for ordinary Afghan citizens and the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal.

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