Afghanistan, March 2002: Al Qaeda has been largely defeated and dispersed; the Taliban regime has fallen and its leadership wants to talk; and the international community has come in strongly behind the United States, promising aid and installing Hamid Karzai as interim head of a new Afghan government, pending a new constitution and elections. US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unequivocal: “The war is over.”
Afghanistan, March 2006: the Taliban has returned to the battlefield, better armed and more professional, and conflict is intense. Though NATO is nominally leading the international coalition, the United States is still in charge – but there is uncertainty in Washington about the nature and purpose of the war in Afghanistan. An election has seen Karzai formally become president, but has exposed the deep divisions in Afghan society and left his administration dependent on northerners; and in Kabul and the provinces, corruption is booming. The road ahead is looking long and hard.