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The U.S. Has Left Afghanistan. What Now?

Washington’s longest war officially comes to an end, 24 hours ahead of schedule.

By , an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy.
Passengers board an Air Force plane at Kabul airport
U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 24. Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States officially ends its longest war with the full withdrawal from Afghanistan, North Korea makes moves to boost its nuclear arsenal, and South Sudan cracks down on protesters

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The Official End of the Longest U.S. War 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States officially ends its longest war with the full withdrawal from Afghanistan, North Korea makes moves to boost its nuclear arsenal, and South Sudan cracks down on protesters

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

The Official End of the Longest U.S. War 

The United States officially concluded its military mission in Afghanistan on Monday, bringing a turbulent end to the two-decade-long war that killed tens of thousands of people and cost Washington over $2 trillion.“The military mission is over,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared on Monday evening. “A new diplomatic mission has begun.”

The Taliban retook Afghanistan at a pace that stunned U.S. officials and fueled concerns about Washington’s ability to evacuate its citizens and its Afghan allies, many of whom sought to flee in harrowing scenes from the Kabul airport. With the departure of the last U.S. troops, 123,000 people have been evacuated—but tens of thousands of Afghans who aided the United States remain in the country, facing an uncertain future.

Left behind? As many as 250,000 Afghans who worked with the United States and may qualify for expedited U.S. visas were not evacuated and remain at risk of retaliation. And it’s not just the United States that halted its flights: The United Kingdom, Germany, and France also ended their civilian evacuations.

The Biden administration says it’s not finished. “After Aug. 31, we will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sunday. “We will ensure the safe passage of those Afghans who helped us to continue coming out after the 31st of August.”

But many activists and aid groups fear that this safe passage will be difficult—even impossible—under Taliban rule, especially when the United States initially could not even guarantee U.S. citizens safe transit to the Kabul airport in mid-August, after the Taliban takeover.

Moreover, Afghans who apply for special immigrant visas (SIVs) to the United States face a broken system that has left thousands in the lurch. The SIV program for Afghans already has a backlog of 18,000 cases, and the true number of applicants could be as great as 80,000.

One promising sign: Following the U.S. withdrawal, 98 countries including the United States have pledged to continue taking in Afghans. China and Russia, which have aligned themselves with the Taliban, are missing from the list.

The Taliban government takes shape. The Taliban will establish a 12-man council to rule Afghanistan in the wake of U.S. withdrawal, as Lynne O’Donnell reported in Foreign Policy last week. The council’s three most powerful members are responsible for some of the most brutal acts of terrorism of the past two decades. They jointly represent one of the world’s largest criminal cartels.

Although the Taliban have said they will not seek retribution against supporters of the previous government, the group’s actions speak louder than its words for many Afghans. “They searched my office, they went to my house, they shot a cousin, beat up another,” a former Afghan defense official told FP. “They have beaten people, shot people, people are disappearing.”

New threats. Islamic State-Khorasan, the Islamic State’s Afghan branch, also poses a serious threat. After the group claimed responsibility for an attack at the Kabul airport that killed over 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members last Thursday, Washington warned of a future threat. “This strike was not the last,” Biden declared. “We will continue to hunt down any person involved in that heinous attack and make them pay.”

Civilian casualties. But it’s unclear whether Washington and its allies have managed to correctly identify and target the perpetrators or protect innocent civilians.

Although a U.S. drone strike on Friday reportedly killed the planner of the airport bombing, another apparent drone strike in Kabul on Sunday killed 10 people who appear to have no connection to militant groups.

Zemari Ahmadi, the driver of the car struck by the missile, worked for a U.S.-based charity. The strike also killed a contractor for the U.S. military and several young children as they ran to greet the arriving vehicle. Faced with the reports of civilian casualties, the Pentagon said: “We’re not in a position to dispute it.”

What We’re Following Today

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. North Korea appears to have restarted its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor amid stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations watchdog. The agency’s report comes after a senior North Korean official warned that U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises could trigger a “serious security crisis” earlier in August.

“The new indications of the operation … are deeply troubling,” the report said. “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”

South Sudan cracks down. After South Sudanese activists planned for nationwide protests on Monday against President Salva Kiir’s administration, which they accused of being corrupt, Kiir hit back. The government disrupted internet services throughout the country on Monday, while security forces took to the streets, reportedly arresting seven people.

Rights groups say the development is emblematic of the country’s broader political crackdown: In recent weeks, a string of journalists and prominent activists have faced detention and arrest.

Emerging challenges to the dollar’s global dominance could upend the international financial system as we know it. The Future of Money, a new series by FP Analytics, explores the impact of “de-dollarizing” central bank reserves and internationalizing digital currencies on geopolitics. Part I is now available for all FP Insiders.

Keep an Eye On

The end of leaded gasoline. Nearly a century after it was introduced to the world, leaded gasoline—which is linked to serious health issues—has been eliminated worldwide, the U.N. Environment Programme said on Monday. The announcement came after Algeria emptied the last of its stockpile last month.

The U.N. has estimated that the end of leaded gas will save the global economy $2.45 trillion per year and help prevent more than 1.2 million premature deaths.

Trudeau’s troubled campaign trail. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began campaigning again on Monday ahead of the Sept. 20 election after protests caused him to cancel an election rally on Friday and delay another on Saturday. Trudeau called a snap election earlier this month in the hope of winning a parliamentary majority, but his Liberal Party is currently trailing the Conservatives in several polls.

The campaign trail has seen protesters outraged with Trudeau’s push for COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions. “I’ve never seen this intensity of anger on the campaign trail or in Canada,” Trudeau said on Friday, after facing crowds hurling death threats and obscenities.

Bali bombers to face trial. After being detained by the United States for 18 years without charge, three prisoners at Guantánamo Bay had their first day in court on Monday. The detainees—one Indonesian and two Malaysians, who have been held for their suspected involvement in deadly bombings in Bali and Jakarta in 2002 and 2003—face charges including murder and terrorism.

Their case, like many Guantánamo cases, is expected to be a long, arduous process.

Odds and Ends

Beijing is cracking down, this time on online gaming for children. According to new rules, children can now only play online video games between 8 and 9 p.m. on Friday, the weekend, and public holidays—a limit of three hours per week.

The stated goal? Curbing online gaming addiction, which Beijing says runs rampant. This isn’t the first time China has set online gaming restrictions. Beijing previously set limits for 90 minutes of online gaming per weekday and three hours on weekends and public holidays.

Chloe Hadavas contributed reporting.

Christina Lu is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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