January 29, 2022

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When the Taliban Are in Your Bed room

When the Taliban Are in Your Bedroom

Times Insider explains who we’re and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes collectively.

KABUL, Afghanistan — When the Taliban are in your bed room and there’s {a photograph} of you on the wall holding an American flag, a rifle and dressed like a recruiting business for the Marines, it’s a must to maintain it collectively.

Then there’s the kitschy mug in your desk that you simply picked up from a store simply as Bagram Air Base closed in July. It reads, “Been there…accomplished that/Operation Enduring Freedom.”

And the empty beer can in your trash that you simply drank the evening earlier than Kabul fell in August once you had a sense this may be the final beer you drink in Afghanistan for awhile as a result of the insurgents-turned-rulers don’t take kindly to booze.

And that picture of you in uniform? Taken simply earlier than the most important operation towards the Taliban of the American struggle in Afghanistan, once you had been a Marine in Helmand Province greater than a decade in the past. That was when the insurgents had been shadows within the reverse tree line, however now, in October, they’re toes away, standing subsequent to your mattress, separated by a decade and a misplaced struggle.

However the Taliban aren’t right here to take something or kill you, despite the fact that that they had loads of probabilities to do exactly that once you deployed in 2008, and in 2009. Or once you had been a journalist within the nation years afterward.

However they nonetheless managed to kill some guys in your unit and blew others in half, one thing not misplaced on you as they decide up and put again a memorial bracelet engraved with the names of your mates (Josh, Matt and Brandon) and a line from a John McCrae poem: “We lived, felt daybreak, noticed sundown glow.”

These Talibs insist they’re right here to verify nothing has been stolen from what was as soon as the New York Instances Kabul bureau, and that every thing is correct the place we left it when all of the newspaper’s staff members fled the country, like 1000’s of different Afghans and foreigners did, in August because the Afghan authorities collapsed.

And every thing is correct the place I left it. There’s the brand new Xbox I purchased at Dubai Worldwide Airport once I flew again into Afghanistan in late July, nearly two weeks earlier than Kabul fell, considering that Kabul wouldn’t fall and that I’d have loads of time to play Microsoft Flight Simulator. My soiled laundry is within the hamper. My mattress is made. There’s a skinny layer of mud on every thing.

That is the fact now: the top of the struggle and the brand new starting of the Islamic Emirate.

Essentially the most distinct and reoccurring reminders of the lengthy U.S. presence are the black American-supplied rifles now cradled by Taliban at checkpoints and on amusement rides and slung on the again of their motorbikes. The acquainted and intrusive thunder of the helicopters flying into the U.S. Embassy isn’t any extra, as a result of the U.S. Embassy isn’t any extra, and the encircling Inexperienced Zone belongs to the Taliban.

The Inexperienced Zone, or worldwide zone, was blocks of concrete blast partitions constructed round what was as soon as an prosperous neighborhood with tree-lined streets, till it was become a fortress that related the American Embassy and NATO’s Resolute Help headquarters and a handful of different diplomatic missions.

Now all that infrastructure is only a skeleton of a 20-year struggle, misplaced by the diplomats and troopers who as soon as lived inside it: a museum to failure.

It’s the place The New York Instances and different information companies saved their bureaus, and the place I had returned final month to proceed protection of Afghanistan and examine what had occurred to our compound.

It’s the place the State Division contractors had a bit of base with a supposed Starbucks inside. It’s the place embassy employees members dared not enterprise away from as a result of the struggle was on. It’s the place armored vehicles had been deserted as Westerners scurried onto helicopters, so that they could possibly be ferried in a foreign country because the Taliban entered town.

The Taliban now do what they please within the Inexperienced Zone. They’re investigating the deserted constructions, searching for spies and weapons or something that might hurt them as a result of the individuals inside the Inexperienced Zone as soon as did simply that, working the struggle from behind its partitions. A blimp with cameras as soon as floated above it, watching every thing within the metropolis in coloration and infrared. At Resolute Help headquarters, American officers approved airstrikes that killed Taliban and civilians alike.

Why wouldn’t the Taliban search each nook? Look beneath each desk? To them, it’s nearly just like the Inexperienced Zone is the Dragon King Underneath the Mountain, one thing that might flip the struggle again on in the event that they one way or the other woke it up.

“Are there navy weapons right here?” one Talib asks us, standing on the second ground of the Instances bureau in a room the place the safety supervisor as soon as painted miniature troopers. He carried a suitcase filled with them in a foreign country because it collapsed.

No, there are not any navy weapons.

One Talib factors to the physique armor on prime of a closet. “That is navy, no?” he asks in near-perfect English. “Why would you want this?”

We would have liked the physique armor as a result of we had been overlaying the struggle that simply ended, the place individuals killed each other with roadside bombs and artillery and airstrikes and Kalashnikovs. His query is sort of obscene, as if the violence his band of insurgents and the Western-backed Afghan authorities and NATO and america perpetrated had existed in some parallel universe.

We reply courteously as a result of our new landlords are carrying quite a lot of weapons with them.

I throw away a membership soda that has been sitting on the kitchen desk since August. The fridge is rancid. The garden is overgrown.

The Taliban stroll by means of the bureau inspecting a house and workplace frozen in the intervening time of collapse. On the mattress within the room reverse mine is an open suitcase, half-packed, garments scattered about. Within the small newsroom downstairs, the white board that marked the autumn of provincial capitals remains to be there, although ultimately, the nation fell aside too quick to trace.

On the wall is a map of town of Kunduz and the place the Taliban entrance strains as soon as had been, with the insurgents held in test for just a few temporary weeks by the demoralized and depleted Afghan security forces earlier than they evaporated and town fell.

Now, in Kabul, the Taliban are driving round within the Afghan navy’s vehicles and Humvees and armored personnel carriers, and carrying their uniforms.

“Free vehicles,” one Talib had messaged me days earlier from the entrance seat of some armored S.U.V. that had belonged to a contracting firm or got here from an deserted navy motor pool. He then despatched an image of his rifle, additionally free, with its markings circled: “Property of U.S. Gov. M4 Carbine. Cal 5.56 MM W0207610.”

That is what shedding a struggle appears to be like like. And the Taliban are nonetheless in my bed room.

One appears to be like about the identical age I used to be in that {photograph} on my wall the place I’m standing beside a big and newly unpackaged American flag, holding that rifle and grinning, as a result of I believed then we had been going to win the struggle or flip the tide or kill the fellows who are actually sifting by means of my wardrobe, pointing to a pair of sneakers in my closet. The very footwear had been the topic of an article we wrote: “In Afghanistan, Follow the White High-Tops and You’ll Find the Taliban.”

He smiles, factors and tries them on.

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