As the United States and its NATO allies accelerate their final withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban have retaken swathes of the country amid fears of a government collapse. The U.S. is by no means the first superpower to get bogged down in chaos and violence before eventually withdrawing from a country that has been dubbed “the graveyard of empires” for good reason.
The British Empire fought three wars in Afghanistan between 1839 and 1919. The first Anglo-Afghan War saw a retreating British army routed and massacred by Afghans in the winter snows of the Hindu Kush in 1842 with 4,500 troops lost along with approximately 12,000 civilians. While the Second Anglo-Afghan War went better for the British between 1878 and 1880, the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919 saw the central-Asian nation win back its independence.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan at peak strength during the Cold War, they swiftly became bogged down against insurgent groups collectively known as the Mujahideen who were receiving U.S. support. After suffering 14,453 military deaths and a further 53,753 soldiers wounded, the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in defeat in 1989.
So far, 2,348 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom while another 20,000 have been wounded. A further 1,147 NATO troops also lost there lives there between 2001 and 2021. The fate of the Afghan government over the next weeks and months will ultimately determine whether democracy survives or if the country returns to the dark days of Taliban rule.
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