The deadly chaos that has erupted in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of American and NATO troops leaves us wondering, with real anxiety, about what will happen next—not just in terms of geopolitical consequences but with regard to the lives of those on the ground. At the heart of the matter, the grim havoc has led to asking what all the sacrifices of a twenty-year war were for. With the Taliban back in power, and with ISIS-K launching attacks at will, Afghan citizens are in clear danger, every day. The country’s journalists, activists, scholars, along with everyday citizens—especially those who assisted the US and its allies, and especially Afghan women and girls—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 deeply painful turning point in history, one of what feels like a relentless series of them of late. The gravity of the moment is, understandably, cause for reflection—if for no other reason than to take some measure of the sacrifices of the last twenty years.

In the interest of creating this resource for reflection, we’ve assembled an archive of VQR’s coverage of Afghanistan. For more than a decade, this magazine has devoted considerable attention to the war there, its motives and costs and consequences abroad and here at home. The range includes war reporting as well as profiles and narratives of the impact on US soldiers who wrestle with the trauma of war; 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.

Given the Taliban’s presence in these pieces, they might collectively be read as an archive of a notorious enemy, a literary study of one of America’s fiercest and most perplexing foes. But they are also, clearly, testimonials of resilience and bravery and solidarity; that and more, something closer to heartbreak or madness, since many of us—soldiers, journalists, photographers, readers, Afghans and Americans alike—had sensed that the mission itself had, over the years, become vague but no less deadly, that the worst lessons of military history were coming back around, and would be just as bitter.

It is sober reading, to be sure, but important for the depth of understanding it offers on what was lost, what it cost, and what’s now at stake.

— Paul Reyes

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