As U.S. forces pull out of Afghanistan, the Taliban are making dramatic territorial gains in a new, tragic phase of the war. The Taliban’s rapid offensive is not merely a function of dwindling U.S. combat and logistical support, but a concerted push by their patron Pakistan to establish a foothold in the war-torn country. Afghanistan has been at its ‘forever war’ since the Soviet invasion in December 1979. It may stay in that state for years to come. The discord between the great powers: U.S., China, Russia, India, and others doesn’t help.

Many recognized that a U.S. retreat from Afghanistan would result in a power vacuum bringing regional players to fill the void, but few could have predicted the rapid pace of the country’s military collapse. The optics are horrible for U.S. credibility, from Tallinn to Taiwan. Friends and foes alike are taking note: the Poles and the Gulf Arabs, with horror; the Russians and the Chinese,…

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