This month, the outgoing commander of America’s military effort in Afghanistan told Congress that the country the United States invaded more than 14 years ago was at “an inflection point.” The Taliban reportedly holds more territory than at any time since 2001, and civilian casualties are at record levels. Ethnic minorities are especially vulnerable; some fear that peace talks with the Taliban could open a place in the government for an organization that waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them.
For all of these reasons, even as U.S. forces continue to depart the country, the war in Afghanistan isn’t over yet, and by many measures it’s not going well.
But there are stories of hope, if you know where to look. One of the brightest is so small it’s invisible to many; to find it, you have to drive for the better part of an hour along rutted roads from the center of Kabul, to a Hazara slum in a desert on the city’s outskirts. It’s just a school. But it is, in many ways, exactly what the Americans and their Afghan allies have been fighting for more than a decade to protect. And it’s exactly what Afghanistan stands to lose now.
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When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, with a parade of foreign armies behind it, a group of refugees was waiting to take advantage. They were Afghans, though at the time of the invasion they were not in Afghanistan, not yet. They were Hazaras, and they were next door in Pakistan, where thousands of members of their ethnic group had fled during more than a century of persecution in their home country, committed most recently by the Taliban regime that America was about to overthrow.